In This Episode
DeRay, Don and Myles cover the underreported news of the week — the “experts” paid to defend anti-trans laws, United Auto Workers strike moves full speed ahead, and the complex life of the first Black supermodel. DeRay interviews the tactical lead for the Stop Cop City Coalition Mary Hooks.
[AD BREAK] [music break]
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, this is DeRay and welcome to Pod Save the People, in this episode it’s me, Myles and Don, talking about all the news that went underreported with regard to race, justice and equity. The news that you should have heard about but probably didn’t. And then I sit down and talk with the tactical lead for the Stop Cop City coalition, Mary Hooks. We talk about the coalition’s strategy and mission and the city’s efforts to silence the activists involved with trying to stop Cop City. I learned a lot. You’ll learn a lot. Important conversation. Here we go. [music break]
Myles E. Johnson: Ladies and gentlemen and thems. You are listening to another episode of Pod Save the People. I am Myles E. Johnson. You can find me at @pharaohrapture on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok for a limited time. [laugh]
DeRay Mckesson: Myles, I didn’t know you were on TikTok.
Myles E. Johnson: Okay. Trying new things.
Don Calloway: [laugh] I’m Don Calloway at @DCalloway on Instagram and at @DCSTLAgain, on Twitter or X, forgive me.
DeRay Mckesson: And this is DeRay at @deray on Twitter.
Myles E. Johnson: Okay, so we have a couple of things that we want to get down, and I’m super excited about hearing something about sports. What’s enticing me is the fact that DeRay promises that white people are getting mad, which I’m like, okay, let’s go. So um Deion Sanders, whoever that is, apparently they’re important. Um. [laughing] They do something with balls and coaches and we’re going to um go ahead and shift the news to our um uh sportscaster for the day.
Don Calloway: [laugh] All right. Deion Sanders, A.K.A. Coach Prime is certainly the biggest story in college football, if not all of American sports. Um. He has first of all, it’s important to put Coach Prime in context. During my growing up years, he was the biggest athlete on the planet, not named Michael Jordan. He was an all star, high level football player, one of the best, probably the best to ever play his position and achieved substantial success in Major League Baseball as well, and did it all while releasing rap albums and just had this huge flair and larger than life personality. So Deion Sanders is an absolute legend of a human being. Turned to coaching college football four years ago and coach at an HBCU Jackson State and has now taken his talents to Boulder, Colorado, as head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes. This is the first time that an HBCU coach has gone to head a Power five organization. He took a bunch of his players with him. Important to note that his two sons are the leaders of the team uh uh at quarterback his son Shedeur and a safety. Uh. And they are just they’re not dominating, but they’re pulling out these really, really exciting wins in this context. And they have just Blackified the program to just such a gorgeous degree. Lil Wayne led the field, led the team out on the field. Prime is one of the biggest, just most charismatic figures in Black America. And he’s very, very like not quiet about this notion of, hey, listen, I’m a confident Black man. I’m talking my stuff, I’m swagging my swag. And these young men are respectful and prepared and we’re winning. And it’s just remarkable to watch this this this take over from this non-conventional character who is breaking into these spaces that have historically been fueled almost exclusively by white men, fueled by Black labor.
DeRay Mckesson: What I love is when the coach made that little slick comment about him wearing sunglasses.
Don Calloway: Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: And then at the latest game one of the ESPN announcers was like, this looks like the BET Awards because Offset was there, uh Lil Wayne was there, uh wasn’t the Rock there. It was like– [laughing]
Don Calloway: Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: It was everybody showed up and it’s like, y’all just cannot imagine what it’s like to have this Black man in Colorado, of all places. The fans rushed the rushed the field afterwards. People are watching this college football game in the middle of the night. And Deion Sanders. Myles, you got to love it. The coach made the coach of the other team made some like wise comment about like why you wearing your shades up like that, Deion Sanders passed out shades to every single player. [laughter]
Myles E. Johnson: I love that.
DeRay Mckesson: Like I love it.
Don Calloway: It is remarkable and you’ve got to remember that the other coach is Black, right? So the white supremacy, the need to jump for the jugular of a confident Black man is not exclusively located in white folks. As a matter of fact, sometimes they use our own to be that attack dog. And I’m just so disappointed in that brother like hey, man, first of all, you ain’t no need to get the best team or the hottest team even more motivated to kick y’all’s boy’s butts. But on the other tip, man you know, just don’t go out like that. Don’t go out like a coon. And it was so disappointing to see a Black coach do that to our brother. But hey, there’ll always be one who they’ll be who they’ll be able to use to publicly snipe the best of ours.
Myles E. Johnson: I love the don’t go out um like a coon line um because that is my favorite pejorative to wield towards Black people.
Don Calloway: Yes, yes.
Myles E. Johnson: Um. But that’s so and I although I do not know a lot about sports, what I do know a lot about is when Black people who are who are just deciding to totally negate the respectability politics and just not do that when they um infiltrate those um spaces that are supposed to be elite, supposed to be rich, supposed to be white, when Black people experience people who are saying, no, I’m going to get the same type of money, the same type of fame, I’m a do the same thing, and I’m also going to do it in my way. The the the gasp of Jack and Jill kids around the nation. [laugh] You can hear–
Don Calloway: Yes.
Myles E. Johnson: You can hear it because that’s just not how it’s supposed to work. You’re supposed to be able to do it like this. And then you get the money and how come that person gets it? So I think we see that with Muhammad Ali, Sha’Carri today. Um uh um Flo-Jo Like, I think that there’s so many examples of people who disrupt that and still um, you know, get the, the, the more respectable shades of Black upset.
Don Calloway: I mean, this is my favorite topic, and I know we have actual articles and news to get to, but my favorite topic in the world is upending Black people who are further too far into notions of white respectability. And let’s be clear, we all fall subject to it in some aspect of our lives every day. But yes, disrupting the comfort of Negroes who are still attached to notions of white respectability is my favorite pastime, if I do say so myself.
DeRay Mckesson: I have to say this about Deion. I like Deion. I’m, sign me up. I don’t like that Deion ranks his children very regularly on Instagram. [laughing]
Don Calloway: [?]
Myles E. Johnson: Ranks them in what way?
Don Calloway: It’s [?]
DeRay Mckesson: He’s like he’s like, he’s like people lie and say that you love all the kids the same. That’s not true. So he literally has a ranking um that he puts out being like, these are my kids and here’s who is number one, two, three and four.
Myles E. Johnson: Does it change?
DeRay Mckesson: Yes.
Don Calloway: Yes [banter]
Myles E. Johnson: That’s fair. That is gangsta I like that. [laughter]
Don Calloway: Yeah.
Myles E. Johnson: Do better. That’s real life.
Don Calloway: Listen. And you got you don’t like it because you don’t have kids DeRay. [laughter] [banter]
Myles E. Johnson: That that is real life.
DeRay Mckesson: I’m like Deion stop it.
Myles E. Johnson: That is real life. I love that. So we just got news about the two models who were found dead in L.A. and we want to speak about that situation. The family just gave a press conference. DeRay has a little bit more information about um what’s going on.
DeRay Mckesson: Yeah, so in L.A., there have been two separate instances of Black women in downtown L.A. who were found dead. And the latest victim, the family, is being pretty clear that like this looks like there is a predator or a serial killer loose in L.A. Um. One of the women was a friend of one of my friends, and uh he posted about her this morning being like, you know, rest in peace. And I was like, whoa. And he was like, Yeah, I know her like she is, um she’s my friend. And and that is just scary. And I bring this up because let’s be clear, there have been times before in not too not too distant history where Black women who have gone missing and the police have sort of been like, oh, you know, blah, blah, blah, not an epidemic, not a serial killer, not something. And then it turns out that it was. So I hope that there’s like real attention being placed on this. And this is pretty scary.
Don Calloway: Yeah, extremely scary. And um you know, these were legit models. I mean, this wasn’t um, you know, folks who had just set up an IG account, right? And these were legit folks who did this for a profession, had real professional credits, um at least in the case of the second woman who I’m reading about. It um this is this is frightening. And it it is very clear that there appears to be a modus operandi of practice here. Um. But I tell you what, as opposed to other cities and in different times, I would have a lot more faith with Karen Bass having some interaction, oversight with the police department, first Black woman mayor of L.A. um and I’m glad that she’s out there uh to be able to police the police at a time like this, just to make sure that the proper um attention is being paid.
Myles E. Johnson: Um.
DeRay Mckesson: And just to say their names real quick, uh it’s Nicole, Nikki Coates, who is 32, and Maleesa Mooney, who is 31.
Myles E. Johnson: And of course, we give all condolences to the family. I am of course everybody is. But I’m really interested in the motivation behind these crimes because the worst part of me, because the identity of the of of the women are so similar is that there is this kind of racial just undergirding of like why these things were are happening. And I feel that we’ve since the podcast has since I’ve joined the podcast, we’ve discussed so often tragic circumstances and the motivations behind them and how they and and and kind of them all leading back to these very specific racialized gendered reasons why these moments of violence are happening. And I hope that’s not what’s going on in L.A. but also I feel like I’m always [laugh] crying to the moon about there’s things happening on the Internet that’s not just the geeks in the basements that are motivating people to hurt hurt other people. Um. It’s happening in elite circles, too. And this feels like something that has a gender and racial motivation as well as just a case of violence.
DeRay Mckesson: And, you know, I did, you’ve seen both of you have definitely seen both in our friends and online when people are like, well why do women give out fake numbers? Like, why don’t da da and you’re like, yeah, because it’s dangerous, because men will get turned down or something and go wild or like, why do why do women text their address to people? Why do, it’s like it’s for reasons it’s not made up. It’s not this is not the boogeyman. It’s cases like this where you can totally see somebody being like, Oh, let’s get a drink, let’s go somewhere. And you’re like, Yeah, this is why people send pictures of people’s license plates. Like, because it’s not a game, because these things happen often when people let their guards down because they feel safe and then something wild happens.
Don Calloway: Yeah. You know, uh I I I have never been in that targeted space, right? I am a straight Black male, and I have never been felt, been made to feel physically unsafe. Right? And so, you know, in fact, it’s my folks who are probably the perpetuators of a lot of this type of violence. And so, um you know, I, it’s interesting to be in a in a discussion about such a fundamental um safety and equity issue and have no experience with, you know, like being on the dominant group of both of those no have no experience with being in the targeted group. So I just feel for those sisters and it really makes you think more broadly about this is this is a reality for a lot of our young women. And trans women as well. You know.
Myles E. Johnson: Absolutely. Okay. So we are we are switching gears again. And I my news this week is about Donyale Luna. You know, one of my passions are unsung people in the fashion industry and art um specifically Black women. And I have a shrine to Sylvia Robinson because I feel like people don’t talk about her enough. I have um so much love for oh I just talked about Ann Lowe last week who’s a designer who is now getting her her her due in in the in the mainstream culture. And this week I’m talking about Donyale Luna. She just had a HBO documentary come out that I’m not going to hold you. I’ve been loving Donyale Luna for a very long time. I’ve I’m I have myspace proof of me putting my um hand over my eye and just [laughter] really thinking I was it. And I was listening to Jimi Hendrix, and I was just listening to The Roots and I was just too above it all. And I love Donyale Luna because she was such a um representation of the Black alternative, and she became a representation of the alternative. So in the 1960s, a lot of the things that are [?] that are um talked about that are associated with uh the the 1960s woman so zen, a hippie, modern, um innovative, artistic. That was who she was. And she’s the she was the muse for um all of that. She was the first Black woman, the cover of British Vogue. And she was. And she was the muse. Now, here’s my beef. [laugh] That documentary. Here’s the thing about these uh these these these um fast food documentaries because you want to handle such a and you think, oh, we found the thing, you know, we found the Nina Simone of this year or we found the person who people forgot about. But we can retell their story and we can rush all this traffic here. You have to really do your work about this, about um digging into that person’s story. And if you’re going to start saying things around that person’s racial identity, how they saw themselves, why they um there’s there’s reference to her um claiming other races, not talking about Civil Rights Act. I felt like a lot of that stuff was handled so irresponsibly. And I think that. And I love the fashion people. I love the editor people. I love the magazine people, intelligent people. I think when we start. This might be the only documentary that Donyale Luna has, right? We need to be really responsible about talking about this woman’s mental health. Talking about what it means to be in the 1960s and also talk about addiction. I think a lot of those different things were handled really poorly. I think any time somebody has obviously either committed slow suicide or suicide via drugs, I think when you have people in their lives saying that’s not what happened or that’s not real or whatever, we we we misstep doing the work of really having to sit down with. Yeah, sometimes black women are um going through things and sometimes uh the racial tension and the gender tension is too much and we find ways to escape them that can that to harm us. We have to handle that. We don’t want to bring up. Oh, they well, they were happy to me. They loved life. They would never do that. That’s perpetuating a danger, too. I have a list of things [laugh] that I think were done irresponsibly, specifically as a fan of um of Luna and of Donyale Luna, and as a fan of that kind of legacy of pe– of Black people who really disrupted fashion in the sixties and seventies. And I think we could have done a lot better. But let it make you want to go search more about Donyale Luna. She was in a lot of avant garde films in the sixties, doing a lot of the things um she uh was friends with Salvador Dali. Salvador Dali made her this beautiful dress. And just because he was so inspired by her figure and her beauty and her personality. She is one of those people who really changed the course of art and of fashion and of aesthetic. And we you could still see her, um you could still see her DNA. Of course, we can connect Donyale Luna’s imagery in the Chrome imagery that she did in 1966 with the imagery of either Knowles sister, um who are obviously the cultural, artistic juggernauts of this generation. So when you know that somebody’s influence is influencing those girls, you know that they’re really a big deal. But I would let the documentary be at the beginning of [laugh] your your research into her and not the conclusion. Did y’all watch it? Do you all, do you all care? What’s what’s going on? I know we went from sports to fashion.
Don Calloway: No, I fully care. Um. I have not watched it yet. There’s a lot of content I just haven’t had time to catch up on. But uh that one will make the cue. I will watch that one along with the Donna Summer uh I think that–
Myles E. Johnson: Oh, that’s so good.
Don Calloway: Yeah. Yeah. It seems like they’re in the same vein. Um. But full note. I fully hear you on the idea of our responsibility to go find out more beyond the packaged documentary that someone gave us. Right. So, yes. And I will. I will pledge to you that I will do that. [laughter]
DeRay Mckesson: I saw pieces of this, but I and I saw the second of I went to a screening of the second episode of the New Supermodel’s Doc that’s coming out. That’s Naomi, Cindy Crawford, um Evangelista, and ooh, I can’t remember the last woman’s name. Um. And it was exceptional. And when I think about Luna, I think the thing that really made me so sad was a heroin overdose at 33. I don’t know why in my mind she lived a long time and this was a retrospective. And then I was like, Oh, she did a lot and died at 33 of a heroin overdose. I mean, and I think you’re right about what happens when you do your absolute best work and an editor at Vogue is like compares you to King Kong. [pause] That would break many people and just I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be the muse of Avedon. And for Avedon, the famed photographer, to advocate for you and fight for you. Still, and like risk like you know really push and still like a random editor at Vogue be like, no thanks. You know, and like, halt your career in such a wild way. And this is why I always remind people, I had this conversation with somebody the other day that, like, proximity to whiteness is not power. Power is power. And as close as you get to white, you cannot be white, that is the game. So, like, at best, you are borrowing the power. And when it slaps people in the face, it is often like a wild thing. What I’m heartened by today is that Vogue, while it still has a, you know, undeniable influence, people have robust careers without being on Vogue, people are known and celebrated. And it’s not a random white woman at Vogue who decides whether you will be seen or not. I’m happy that we have like passed that moment. And even when you see the supermodel doc. Wait till you hear the way Naomi talks about who looked out for her, who didn’t. And I’ll just tell you, the thing I love about and this is not about Naomi, but I will tell you, like, what I love about Naomi is that she has the right to be angry in a very particular way, because Lord knows who wouldn’t do her right. Um. And I watched this interview recently where somebody asked her about the Beyoncé line and the song where she’s like, do the Naomi Campbell walk, the Naomi Campbell walk. And um and the interviewer says, have you ever been anywhere where people do that, where people are like doing the Naomi Campbell walk? And she’s like, yeah, you know, I’ve been in some rooms and then Naomi says, everybody has a walk inside of them, and you’re like, this is what makes you Naomi Campbell.
Myles E. Johnson: Aw. I love that. I love that. But yeah, the I hope that you all watch it and just to put a pin on it. I think that the next frontier, when it comes to what we talk about when it comes to Black mental health, has to be I think we got Black anxiety, we got Black um depression. I think we’re really bringing those out. But we have to start talking about [?] academic conversation about like Black madness in like the things are not as easily talked about. So when people are experiencing Black racialized trauma, how sometimes violence comes from that, or addictions or things that are not as easily talked about, like depression, anxiety come up. And I think Donyale Luna is one of those stories and Miss Simone is one of those stories. And I think that we can uh I think that we’re ready as a people [laugh] to talk about it.
DeRay Mckesson: And Myles and Don, what do you what what how would you explain what we lose when we don’t do those conversations well? Like, when we when we say things like, oh, no, they would never do this. It wasn’t as bad as people tried to make it seem? Da da like what what what is lost there?
Myles E. Johnson: It’s not about the person who’s already passed away right? Because that person is gone. It’s about reestablishing a type of shame for the people who are dealing with that, who are watching you say that, you know, so because it’s not so Donyale Luna and HBO doing that is not really about Donyale Luna. It’s about um a me, whose went through things and whose went through addictions and and and mental breakdowns and has went through um uh having intrusive thoughts and medications and all these other things that are not pretty and feeling invalidated because that’s not what Black people do or no, you love life. I loved life and hated being inside my mind, they can be simulaneous simultaneous. I’ve had great jokes and laughed at DeRay and DeRay is showing all their teeth. And maybe a week later I’m going through something and it’s hard, you know what I mean? Those things can live together and we have to deal with the fact that Black joy and Black girl magic can also deal can also coincide with Black queer rage and and and Black madness. All these things are a part of Black um experience.
Don Calloway: Yeah. I mean, I just think you lose so. In venture capital terms, value created, value destroyed, value captured. I mean, it’s actually immeasurable like the the infinity sign, uh the value destroyed by not of affirming individual classes of people right because people actually do commit suicide. I’ve had that happen in, you know, three or four distinct instances over the last five years post pan– since the pandemic with very close friends. And it I mean, it’s an incalculable loss, right? It’s literally you cannot calculate the value that’s destroyed uh when when people end up and frankly, uh by not having the conversations, the future value that will be destroyed, we won’t be able to save people from this similar fate when it was so preventable, right? And it was so foreseeable right? Foreseeable as well as preventable. And when something is preventable, maybe you did and maybe you didn’t. But if it’s foreseeable and preventable, like we have responsibility for that. Right? We all have culpability for that by not forcing these discussions because the end loss is so incalculable to your question, DeRay, that we’re all responsible for the losses and the poorer we get by not having those discussions.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Stay tuned. There’s more to come.
Don Calloway: This week. I don’t have a particular article to discuss, but I’m struck by the notion that there are two major strikes happening right now uh in our labor workforce. First is UAW, United Auto Workers are striking against the big auto producers, um and that is probably 50,000 jobs right now currently on strike. I want to get an accurate number on that, um but it is parallel to the SAG-AFTRA strike, the Screen Actors Guild and the writers strike out in Hollywood, which is grinding Hollywood to a halt. And we’re not seeing new productions and so on and so forth. So all the writers and the actors are on strike alongside the autoworkers. And I think that the thing that is incontrovertibly in common between the two is a couple of elements. Number one, the American car and the ability to tell our story are kind of the pillars of this broad American mythology that we tell ourselves, right? About who we are and about American exceptionalism. And so much of that is centered around the mighty American car industry and this this notion of Hollywood, which we own and control. These are two industries that are not unique to America, but native to here, in that we started them and we dominate them. Uh. But I think that what’s more important here is the notion that both industries are fighting with how to treat people properly, pay people properly in the wake of innovation. The key issue, one of the key issues in the UAW strike is how do we make room for workers and worker pay in light of the AI and the automation that’s going to come from a push toward electric vehicles? So if we push toward electric vehicles, there’s no obligation on behalf of the automakers, particularly the big three, to make sure that those jobs are retained, to make sure that people are paid to even learn to program the AI or whatever might be necessary. There’s no guarantee to these workers in light of all of this and these workers having got us to a place where we could innovate in the direction of electronic vehicles. A major issue in the Hollywood strike is similar. What are we going to do to pay actors in light of A.I. who could create entire universes of extras, who could create, who can write scripts? How are we going to properly compensate writers and actors in light of the coming innovation? And I just think in both of these situations, I’m so proud of this extraordinarily difficult spot that the striking labor employees have themselves in because they are securing the future for people who they’ll never meet. They are securing the future to make sure that they’re future generations of kids who get into these spaces, are treated fairly. Because the one thing that’s not going anywhere is the technology which drives the innovation right, and which will be able to drive ways to not properly pay people. So I think that that’s an unspoken about commonality between both of these that I think we should probably find, try to find a way to explore more.
DeRay Mckesson: Myles, I’m really interested in what you have to say about Drew Barrymore, because she was the last person impacted heavily uh by the by the strike, which rippled through the talk. And then Jennifer Hudson’s show. So I’ll just queue up. I’m interested to hear you before I say anything about that. In terms of UAW, what I love about it is first that it’s a white man who’s the face of it, because Lord knows people try to make it seem like labor is only, you know, it’s like only, you know, Black people da da da da da and da da it’s like nope, I I I like I love that this white man is on TV being like not enough money, not enough da da da da like and the heat they’re doing, um there’s a there’s a formal name for it, but there’s a type of strike. It’s a it’s not called surprise strike, but where they don’t announce where the strikes gonna happen. But they just the people just don’t show up the day to work. And I love it. So, like, the big three are stressed. You know, Ford sent people home on the other one sent people home and they offered a 20% increase. And the guy was like, not enough. Somebody tweeted the bet, the most important vote I’ve made in my life was for that union president. And I’m like, you know what? Yes. Because here’s the thing is that, and this is like the this is the dirty side of capitalism is that there’s never enough profit for the companies.
Don Calloway: That’s right.
DeRay Mckesson: They are making record profit. One of the CEOs of the Big three did an interview that says she gets performance pay. She makes $30 million dollars.
Don Calloway: A year.
DeRay Mckesson: A year and–
Don Calloway: 29 million DeRay. Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t be disrespectful. You don’t have to [?] it. Nah I’m just [laughing]
DeRay Mckesson: Alright, she really–
Don Calloway: Just 29.
DeRay Mckesson: –got on TV and said, I make performance pay. And the union president got on TV and said, you get paid for other people’s work. And it’s like, I actually love that this is happening in public in TV. And like we should do that more often and there’s enough money for people. There just is enough money for people. And when we don’t sort of be honest about the fact that there are certain people who feel like your job isn’t worthy and you should struggle, just like, did you all see that clip of the guy who was like, we need that, we need 40% unemployment? Did you see that clip?
Don Calloway: No, no.
Myles E. Johnson: Mm mm. [sound meaning no]
DeRay Mckesson: Okay we can talk about that next week. So there’s a guy who literally he does a whole speech. He’s like, we need 40% unemployment so that the workers understand that we have power and they don’t. And it gets videotaped. And then he, like, apologizes later. But he’s like the whole point is so the workers understand that they do not have power. And like he just said it out loud in a place that got recorded. But I do believe that is what most of the “titans,” in quotes, believe. Okay.
Don Calloway: Sure it is. I mean, it’s it’s the old Chris Rock adage of minimum wage literally translates to, if I could pay you less, I would. Right? And a whole lot of folks are not too far away from, if I could pay you nothing, I would. And we know what that was, a seven letter word, start with s, right. Um. But when you see folks who are willing to let employees not be at a livable wage and actively finding ways, particularly in the way in in the Hollywood situation, actively finding ways to eliminate actors and eliminate writers from the process, um you know, creativity and artistic merit be damned, right? Um. Yeah. You just see that there is a legitimate space in which there would be, [?] do want 40% unemployment. People do and if they would want you to work, they would want you to do it for free. Um. There will never be enough profit for the companies. You’re exactly right DeRay.
Myles E. Johnson: And I think. So moving through two things at one time, I’m having my own experiences uh in theater and that world right now, and because it’s new to me, I go in with my big, annoying feminist queer brain, right? So I’m over here kind of like connecting things that are happening exploitation wise. And when it comes to writing and when it comes to actors, when it comes to directors and producers with like minstrelsy and like, oh, like what’s going on? Like literally witnessing some things happen where I’m like, Oh, if a actor does this that’s writing or if somebody does this, they should be getting credit not just for what they’re doing performing, but they should get credit for this. And what does that look like residuals. Like, I totally understand how exploitation can happen in a way that’s a little bit more real for me. And what I do like connecting this to uh Drew Barrymore’s situation is that so often people are able just to be the face of the monster because we love Drew Barrymore. And I’ve never seen E.T., but I’ve seen the clips and she looks cute and she’s lovable. And, you know, I know that she was at Studio 54 and she made it out. So she’s the f– and she runs outside and she loves the rain. So she’s the face of exploitation. Then who can hit her? Who can curse her out? And now what I like about the Internet is that, oh, if you want to be the face of it, when it’s everything’s all good. And if you and Jennifer Hudson, if you want to go and sing with Chaka Khan and make all our hearts warm, then we still need to see underneath your hood. We still need to see what’s going on to the things that we that to the things that we don’t understand. The same thing that happened to Ellen, when when those rumors started coming out with her. We still need to see underneath your hood. And we’re no longer falling for people um being the nice face while they’re on television and then exploiting people, being harmful, or just being a powerful bystander while other people get get exploited. It’s like, we don’t care how cute you were in E.T. and we don’t care how much you love the rain. If you’re exploiting these workers, we’re still going to come for your throat. And I really like that. [laugh] I think that’s necessary.
DeRay Mckesson: What was so wild about the Drew Barrymore thing is that she’s like, people need my show. And you’re like, okay, Drew, the show is new. Like the level of arrogance that you believe that of all the things that got pulled off TV because of strikes, you’re the only person who could say that with a straight face. Even we we’d still be like, it’s a strike. Oprah could say people might need her show as like a matter of–
Myles E. Johnson: A super [?] Sunday.
DeRay Mckesson: Yeah, you might be like, people just need it. And like, we still would be like, Oprah. Come on, it’s a strike. But she could say people need it with her chest and be like, you’re like, okay, girl.
Don Calloway: But I think that’s–
DeRay Mckesson: But Drew Barrymore?
Don Calloway: Well, but but, you know, that’s interesting because Bill Maher did the same thing. Right? And we’re not going to let his punk ass escape with none of this smoke as well. And so he did the same logic of I actually employ people and this and that. And yes, you do. But that is uh to quote the amazing Casey Gerald, such an impoverished vision, right? Because it only takes into account the 50 people on your staff who you see every day as opposed to the much broader picture of even future generations of who were not even future generations, but thinking about damn it’s a show in the studio next door to yours, a hole, right? And those people won’t be coming back just because you, you know, want to be a white savior to this universe of 25 that you have. Right? So what about the bigger picture of folks who are struggling, uh not to mention the long term? So it’s a really weird narcissistic thing to kind of show that you can do this and you have the power to do this even in the face of saying, you know, I’m trying to bring my people back to work.
DeRay Mckesson: So we’ve talked about the anti-trans laws that are happening across the country. We it’s been this is not new news, that has happened before, But what is new and what I didn’t even know was happening until I started to do more. You know, this is a thing that happens in police world, too. I didn’t know what’s happening with the anti-trans laws is that there’s a cottage industry of, quote, “experts” who are the witnesses in these cases. And this article that’s in Huffington Post starts by talking about Dr. Paul Hruz. Dr. Paul Hruz, who is a pediatric endocrinologist at Washington University and at the okay. So my news this week is about the cottage industry of “experts” in air quotes who testify against any gender affirming care. And they are the backbone of the anti-trans laws that are sweeping the country. And this article starts by talking about Dr. Paul Hruz, uh who’s at Wash U. School of Medicine in St Louis, and he was meeting with the woman in charge of bringing the gender affirming care practice to WASH U. And he literally goes into a lecture about God’s plan. And if you knew the writings of Pope John Paul, the second on gender, you would understand. But he is actually one of the leading experts. He’s been in at least 12 cases about this as an expert. He is an endocrinologist. And again, he believes, quote, “that being trans goes back to some of the early heresies in the church” and and most importantly for this, he has actually been recruited. He is one of many people and there have been a set of experts who have been recruited by the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is a conservative legal powerhouse. And they are governed by, quote, “far right Christian values.” So they get paid $100 an hour and it has an impact. So these are the experts who go into into the field. Now, as you can imagine, the people who do this work, like at Lambda Legal, are clear. And I’ll read their quote. These are not real experts. They’re manufactured as experts by the opponents of transgender rights. And HuffPo did a lot of work on this. They went through thousands of court filings, state vendor databases. And what they saw was that the expert witnesses pulled down five figures and returned for just a few weeks of work. And since 2016, state and local governments have spent more than $1.1 million dollars on expert testimony, much of it going to just six, six, six witnesses. So I wanted to bring this here, because when you think about things like the bathroom ban and all this other nonsense that people are working on in this in the vein of the anti-trans laws, there’s actually a really, really small group of people who are undergirding it as, quote, “experts.” um from a medical standpoint.
Don Calloway: Yeah, this is uh I mean, I don’t want to reduce it to the simplicity of it being a money grab, but that’s a significant part of it that a lot of times us as an activist community or leftist community don’t fully understand, right? We’re just thinking that they hate us. Yes, that’s true. But let’s be very, very clear about something. The money side of American politics and public affairs is on the right and the far right. They find ways to compensate people to carry out their mission. And I used to practice law back when I was Myles’ age. And it is very clear that every step of the way in matters of civil litigation requires expert witness testimony. Um. If I said I was burned by this acid, then I would have an expert dermatologist and an acidologist come in. And those people are compensated mightily by whichever side would be, uh you know, they would be testifying for. That’s an unspoken part of our justice system, is that we pay people to testify to achieve outcomes all the time. Now that we have a universe of anti-trans anti-gay um anti LGBT, this entire universe of hate litigation breeds the same type of economic opportunities for those who would testify as experts no different than anything else in the context of global civil litigation. So those are funded by these extraordinary right wing groups who fund all of this stuff. Club for Growth, Heritage Foundation. There are deep moneyed right wing interests who are funding litigation just in the same way that they fund elections and so on and so forth. And part of funding litigation is funding experts. The last thing I’ll say is, in this social context, it’s just some idiot motherfuckers opinion, right? [laughter] These are not PhDs. Uh these or you might find someone who has the occasional credential, like an endocrinologist, just to give his own religious opinion. And so it’s really silly. It’s really pernicious. But we should recognize that there is a business to advocacy and a business to litigation that is being weaponized against us as people who believe in everybody’s humanity.
Myles E. Johnson: So here’s my thing, and DeRay knows that I’m so passionate about this. I do think it’s still a storytelling thing, too. And I think when you listen to what these men are saying, and even when I think of platforms like Brexit and stuff like that, when you listen to like what they’re saying, it’s so clear that in like right now, but also in 20 and 30 years, in the same way, eugenics is like, I cannot believe y’all were going around saying this. These type of ideas and this type of speech is going to be seen the same way. The weird thing about what’s happening right now is that it feels as though the left’s determination is all around saying, no, that’s not true. No, that’s not true no that’s not true then no that’s not true. Instead of creating just as many things as saying this is what is true. Well, this is what is true, this is what it is trans is being like. This is what’s going on. And we have maybe two documentaries and a Laverne Cox interview. That’s just not enough to make sure that [laughter] the general the general public is equipped with the knowledge, because that’s really where it happens, because at the end of the day, my mama gots has to go to work. And if she didn’t have such a brilliant, non-binary, trans Black child, she would just be clueless. And she’s a and she’s a Black lesbian and I’m like, Mom, you can’t say that. And she still messes up because why? She got things to do. So if somebody can cull this ignorance in enough Christianity in enough sense, it can really start to harm people. And I think the left really has to think about how are we telling stories and how are we being just as creative when it comes to telling stories. And the story just can’t be the war on this or going against that? It has to be, this is our Genesis myth. Based off of facts. This is our you know, we have to have things that are just as compelling and just as riveting and just as backed up. Because the right just feels like they just eaten it, eating it up. [laugh] When it comes to mythmaking and and and if you take it’s like as soon as that one Scooby-Doo episode is over and you figure out, oh, my goodness, that wasn’t a ghost, that was Clarence Thomas, [laughter] as soon as that’s done, we got another one. I’m like, who is this person? I didn’t even know him two years ago. Who is this new person? I think that’s what we need to really, as well. We need to add that on.
Don Calloway: But you have to, you have to remember that all of this is part of the democratic experiment. And Black folks have really only been allowed to participate in the democratic experiment for the last 50 years. Right?
Myles E. Johnson: [?].
Don Calloway: And with progressively more participation going forward. So what that looks like today is folks who have been allowed not only to participate, but to create the rules of the game. They’re doing niche shit like funding expert witnesses, and we’re worried about running candidates right for state rep or or having, you know, the first African-American county dogcatcher. And all of those positions matter because any position of public trust is an opportunity for you to make decisions that are equitable for everybody as opposed to serving a niche group. But they are so and we’re worried about a horse race and candidates, while they are so far into participating, that they have an opportunity to really dig into the nitty gritty of elements of governance and and and public life that many times we don’t even know exist. Right. Uh. But they have been able to examine and systematize and operationalize the hate in a way that we’re just still on a very surface level in terms of participation in the democratic experiment.
DeRay Mckesson: Don though, I do have a question to Myles’ push, uh because you were an elected official at the state level. You’ve been in politics for a while, helping people as a lobbyist, thinking through things. What do you say to the lack of storytelling on the left? Like this idea that, you know, as an organizer, we would always say the first act is the story and it feels like the left doesn’t. The right has all these stories that are wild, racist, crazy, xenophobic, bigoted, and the left is like, they’re lying seems to be our best story. What do you say to that?
Don Calloway: That’s a great question. Um. You know, when you are [?] so the idea of a communications officer or a person in any given campaign or organization that’s in charge specifically of communications, that’s a relatively new beast of the last 20 years. Because when you are concerned with most activist organizations, when you’re concerned with keeping your people from dying, making sure your people have actual food, making sure your people have safe spaces to retreat to, uh to protect themselves from gunfire and other poverty crimes. You know, that’s kind of where we’re focused on and a lot of our organizations and by organizations I’m talking about congressional staff offices as well, who have represented marginalized people. A lot of us are just now growing to universities of sophistication where we’re even considering storytelling as an elemental aspect of what we’re trying to achieve every day. And so I always, you know, I don’t want to be too reductionist, but the top of mind thought for me is that our best and brightest have always been attuned to meeting our people’s very basic, lowest level Maslow situation. Right? And we have not yet had the freedom of participation in this country to tune ourselves toward higher concepts beyond air, water, food, safety and security. Right. And one day, hopefully, we’ll be able to look at esthetics and beauty and but in the story of our people, that stuff has always mattered as an elemental aspect of expression. And that’s why it’s important to understand who uh Sister Luna was. Right, and not who they tell us she was. So I hope that wasn’t too weird of an answer. But uh that’s what I got. [laugh]
Myles E. Johnson: No that that was a good answer, because that’s that shows that you um definitely practice law. And, [laughter] no but I do think I totally get it, because most of the times people are doing serious work. Right. And I think even things that I would say are coded queer or feminine are automatically coded as like unimportant. But at the end of the day, I this is not this is a made up statistic that’s just going by what I think. I would imagine that most people who are on the left who are in America, a lot of those people are seeing probably ten TikToks or ten Instagram posts or ten tweets before they ever read one article. So I’m like, if we don’t figure out a way. So I think the Democrats, I think the communications people, they need to say, you know what, we all we need ten silly people. I’m a silly person. I care about how things look, how things sound, does it look cool on Instagram, TikTok editing. I care about all of this silly stuff that is not the real things, but that is really the gateway in getting to people’s minds and getting these stories out because at the end of the day they’re seeing ten TikToks before they’re opening up this journal. [laugh] You know, that’s just that’s just how this generation is built right now.
Don Calloway: Yeah, I turned 44 today and I’m so far detached, I have no–
Myles E. Johnson: Happy birthday.
DeRay Mckesson: Happy birthday.
Don Calloway: Thank you. Thank you. [?] I have no concept of so much. I mean, I watch my kids do it, and but it gets further and further from me every day. But you’re absolutely right. We have to be in those certain spaces.
Myles E. Johnson: Because those men know. That’s how those men who are. I mean, the [?] cases, those those teenage boys who are going in those stores and shooting up things. They know where those kids are. And by the time they turn 16, 17, 18, those those boys are ready to end their lives based off of what they found on the Internet. Now, imagine if that was a love politic or radical politic doing the same thing to your children or to our children um in the same way. We can definitely do those same tactics.
Don Calloway: Yeah, and it’s out there. I mean, there are universities on the Internet in which Kyle Rittenhouse is a cult hero, you know. Um. There are there are spaces and places in which young white boys and not young men yet, boys are now being, you know, desensitized to racist and and and homophobic jokes and all of that. And there’s this kind of consistent thread that’s rising about who, you know, that wasn’t that bad. That’s not offensive. And, you know, you’re starting to see those mindsets develop uh very, very early. And it’s yes. And it is using those [?] to your point, they’re using these avenues. Right. And we on the left need to be committed to finding our voice in those spaces as well.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: This week, we welcome Mary Hooks on the pod. She serves as the National Field Secretary for the Movement for Black Lives and the tactical lead for the Stop Cop City Coalition. Now, the Stop Cop City Coalition is a nationwide movement to stop the construction of a $90 million dollar Atlanta Police Department training facility just outside the city. Have you heard about it? I’ve heard about it. A lot of people have heard about it. But I hadn’t talked to somebody who was helping to lead the strategy until now. You know, when you look at it, do the police need a $90 million dollars training facility in Atlanta? The answer is no. Me and Mary talk about the Stop Cop City coalition strategy. The mission and the efforts that the city has employed to silence the activists. And as you can imagine, the activists will not be silenced. Here we go.
DeRay Mckesson: Mary, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Mary Hooks: Thank you for having me. Thank you for having me.
DeRay Mckesson: So let’s start with your story. How did you get involved with advocacy activism and did you always care, did something happened that sort of brought you into the work? How did you get here?
Mary Hooks: Well, um you know, I’m a child of the eighties, right? And I was a teenager in the nineties. So I remember when Hillary Clinton called us um uh what was that term that she used, the term [?]–
DeRay Mckesson: Super predators.
Mary Hooks: Super predators. Yes, I recall that. And I also you know grew up in a family that was deeply impacted by the war on drugs and the crack epidemic. And I grew up thinking that it was our fault and that our family just made bad decisions, um why you know, uh and all the consequences that come with that. Um. But it wasn’t until uh about 17 years ago I moved to Atlanta um I started my job, and my relationship. Gave both a two week notice and um [laughter]
over to Atlanta and uh one night I happened to be in a bar picking up the ladies. And um I had encountered a woman and I asked her what she did. You know how in Atlanta we network. Okay.
DeRay Mckesson: Okay.
Mary Hooks: And uh when I asked her what she did, she said she was trying to stop the shackling of Black women while giving birth in prison. And it and it blew my mind. And I, one that it was happening but two, that she was doing something about it. And uh we became friends. And I would ask her persistently, like, say more about that, what do you mean? And she said, I’m going to introduce you to my political home, which was Southerners On New Ground. This was circa 2008, 2009, and um I got introduced to SONG and they invited me to participate in like a social justice, one on one sort of program. And I remember thinking, I don’t understand half of the terms that they use. I don’t I’ve never heard some of this language in my whole life, but something felt like gospel. And I joined as a member and was given an assignment shortly thereafter to do a listening campaign in Alabama uh to hear how queer people in the South, uh what they were loving on and how they were surviving and thriving and what they wanted to fight for. And around 2013, uh I was asked to leave the work that I was doing at the time. I was starting my little career doing doing human resources, and they asked me to come come on board full time and commit my life to this movement. And I’ve done it ever since.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom I um, it is always interesting to hear the stories that got us to this work and and I’ll come back to that. Let’s talk about I’m so interested to talk to you about Cop City. It is something that people have seen online. I’m one of them. We have a fellow who worked at Campaign Zero this this summer who has been organizing around Cop City. But uh but that was not her project here. And when we sat down, it was like, we got to get somebody on that to help us and our listeners understand it better. So can you start with the 101, for people who know nothing, for people who have heard or seen the hash tag, what is Cop City? Why does it matter? And what are you trying to do about it?
Mary Hooks: Yeah. So Cop City is um uh is a proposed facility that is to be built. It’s supposed to be a police training facility that also includes a little corner of space for firefighters and EMTS. And um uh it is supposed to be built uh in what is known as the Weelaunee forest, um historically known as the home of the Muskogee people, who were pushed out through the trail of tears. And it used to be the site of an old prison farm. And still adjacent to it sits a youth detention center. And this was proposed in 2020, 2021 and um two years prior to that, that that space, over 300 acres of land, better known as the lungs of Atlanta, was um committed and dedicated to being a public park, a place where everyday people can you know enjoy and be with nature. But in 2021, a formal council person brought forth legislation saying that they wanted to give a reach over to the Atlanta Police Foundation, which is a private nonprofit that raises additional moneys uh for police and police activities. And uh we were all under the impression that the city was committing $30 million dollars. Other moneys would come from, you know, corporations like Delta and Coca-Cola and Norfolk Southern and many of those. And immediately folks were against it. And this was still during the time that city council was in um was doing virtual meetings due to COVID. And so there were hours and hours of public comments saying, uh uh, y’all, we don’t want this, we don’t want this. And um after that, uh forest defenders began occupying that space, began living and creating community in the forest to prevent construction to begin. And uh that went on for a good two years, give or take. And there were you know several actions. And and uh folks, you know, used all sort of legal challenges, zoning laws, all the things to try to prevent it. And then fast forward to January 18th of this year, there was a joint operation between the DeKalb Police Department, the Atlanta Police Department and um the Georgia State troopers, and they did a joint operation to clear the forest of the forest defenders ultimately murdering Tortuguita, uh shooting them 57 times, as autopsies showed with their hands in the air. And um that, I believe, began another wave of folks who had been watching, who had been trying to figure out how to engage and more people began to get involved. And so there’s been all manner of actions um to um to prevent the building of Cop City. And as of now, they have uh taken down some trees. Um. There is a current injunction right now uh based on the violation of the Clear Water Act that is you know being circulated in the courts, and hopefully a decision will come down to stop the construction. Um. But that is what Cop City is. It is a uh it is an environmental threat. It sits right along right in the backyard of a working class Black neighborhood in unincorporated DeKalb, uh even though the city of Atlanta owns the land. So the people who live right behind it don’t have any representation on the city of Atlanta council. And so they don’t have a voice in the matter. The water runoffs and what’s being put into the water, which is why that clean uh violation of the Clean Water Act is an is an issue. It’s an environmental racism issue. There’s an issue because their words, not ours, that they were going to build an urban warfare training center. They’re literally planning to build a fake city, which is why it’s called Cop City with fake apartment buildings, fake nightclubs, fake schools in order to learn urban warfare tactics, to practice on who? You already know that answer, Black and Brown people, working class people, and to repress um any opposition to the state. We understand and know to be true that this is a um this is a um a direct response from the uprisings we saw in 2020. And um so that is why it is a problem. Not to mention and I have to say this, uh the ways in which um the democracy is at stake and the ways in which people have spent hours and hours um rather be in front of council giving formal testimony. People you know who have you know used nonviolent civil disobedience um in order to pressure council. And none of that has worked. Everything that we allegedly have at our disposal under our right to free speech has been uh repressed, criminalized, demonized. And so our aim is to stop Cop City, to literally stop the building of this and um make sure that that six that 67 million and I’m going to intially like I said earlier, $30 million dollars is what the city uh claimed for two years that they were spending. And blessings to the work of the Atlanta Press collective. They um actually went through the lease and looked at some of the fine print and learned that Atlanta would give them $1,000,000 for the next 30 years, um not to mention that they gave the Atlanta Police Foundation the lease on that land for $10 a year, $10 a year in a place in America with the highest income gap in the country with some of the worst um housing markets right now. Rent
high and they get $10 a month, excuse me, a year for a lease. And every day, people are struggling to pay $1800, $2,000 for a one bedroom apartment here in this city. And so there are many, many reasons.
DeRay Mckesson: Let’s pause for two seconds. I’m going to ask you some questions that my aunt who would be thinking about this, the first is, you know, because Baltimore is also adopting a you know, it is rumored that Cop City is on the–
Mary Hooks: Mm hmm.
DeRay Mckesson: Is on the rise and in Baltimore is my Charm City, my hometown. What is wrong with the training facility? Some people would be like the police got to train. The current facility is bad. You know, they will they’ll be a new facility any way because the current one just doesn’t meet standards. What is your response to the people who say that that like maybe not a really expensive one, but they need a facility? And and are you opposed to the idea of a facility?
Mary Hooks: Well, police get training already and we have seen over decades their training has culminated into the state sanctioned violence and murder of Black people in the streets every day. It’s culminated into folks being able to get away with murder and rape and all manner of uh of behavior. Um. Excessive force continues to rise, even though, you know, crime continues to go down, but excessive force continues to rise. We’ve, you know, police um the officer who murdered Rayshard Brooks had 2,000 plus hours of training, including deescalation. Right. And so I think there is a myth around training that if we just train them better, they will do right by us. And at some point, you have to look at this thing and say, this actually isn’t
working. We are spending money on a thing that does not bring safety or dignity or anything else to our communities. And so I think that’s one place to start. And then on a practical level, I will say this, that, uh yes, I you know, we’ve we’ve seen the footage. We know what their facility looks like. And I don’t understand why they were given a facility that they’ve been in for years, did not maintain it. And now expect to get a brand new big, shiny thing, the largest big, shiny training facility that this country will have seen. And so, you know, again, practically, do they need training, you know, based on, you know, the current conditions, reality that we’re in? Yeah, they need to do training. They work, every job has training. Did it need to be in this forest? Did they need to spend $67 million dollars? Could they not have just done a little rehab to the space they already had? And so I think that some of those questions must be grappled with. And, you know, right now, the city of Atlanta gets almost 48%, give or take of our city budget. Not to mention what the Atlanta Police Foundation raises on their behalf. The Atlanta Police Foundation is one of the most well-funded police foundations because there’s police foundations everywhere there’s police, but they have they have one of the wealthiest. And so I don’t understand why our money’s why our tax dollars is going to you know, is going to the to the police in this way. And so that is what uh that is what I would say to them.
DeRay Mckesson: And what what have been some of the biggest misconceptions that you’ve had to deal with in this campaign? I can imagine that the city of Atlanta is telling people all types of stuff. If we don’t get Cop City, hell is going to break loose. The police won’t be equipped to deal with, but what have you, what have you what have you had to deal with as misconceptions that you have been confronted with as people engage the issue?
Mary Hooks: Yeah, I think um one thing is very interesting um and and I’ll get to this a little bit later when we talk about [?] Referendum fight, but uh when we while talking to people and canvasing, some people have looked at some of the actions of the protesters as violent. And and I have to call the question and I say and of all those assessments you gave of the protesters, but not once did you call the name of Tortuguita, or Rayshard Brooks or Johnny Hollman, who literally just died by the hands of police three weeks ago on August 10th. And so there is this posture that we have that anything that doesn’t mirror uh silence, a quiet march, a peaceful march, is considered violent, and that there’s this myth that the ways in which we show our righteous rage around the betrayal of our city leaders, we should be docile in the way in which we do that, while also not having um the same sort of criti– critique as relates to the police, which, you know, I think that there’s some there’s some underlying things there that can explain it. Um and we don’t have to go into it, but anti-Blackness is everywhere in this and all of us. You know, so we must do our work. Um. And I think it’s also, you know, the mayor has said, you know, that we were uh that there’s a that there was a silent majority who wanted this. And just because they weren’t coming down to city hall, he gets called saying that they people want this, people want this. And this was a debate we were inside of before we kicked off this referendum campaign, that everything was it’s just these protesters, these protesters, these outside agitators, which is so disrespectful, given in this in the home of the civil rights movement, where many who who come out of that legacy, Dr. King um uh uh um Ralph David Abernathy and so many were considered outside agitators in their heyday, right when they would go to places in the Delta and other places, because folks in the South know and understood that um oftentimes, in order to break the backbone of the type of racist systems that are here, that you need national influence and support. And so for them to also invisibilize folks who live here, folks who love and struggle here and pretend as if we are not on the front lines of this fight and just give all of our working credit to folks who have come from outside of the state is disrespectful. Um. And so, yeah, this this question about this, you know, it’s the silent majority who wants this. Well, that’s why we said, you know, you saying that people are telling you one thing, we’re hearing something else. Let’s actually get real clear about it. And that’s when we begin to kick off this referendum campaign, which required that we get 15% of registered voters who were registered in 2021 when this legislation was first raised. And that number is about 58,238 people. Right. It’s who we needed to get signatures from. Well, on Monday, we submitted 116,000 signatures of folks who said we want to see–
DeRay Mckesson: Boom.
Mary Hooks: –this on the ballot. And so it is undeniable that this is not a conversation of just a few outside agitator protesters. No, these are folks who live here, who love here, who struggle here that want to have a say in the future of this city.
DeRay Mckesson: Now I saw that it looks as it looks as if, as of today, the city is using some shady maneuvers to not engage those signatures. Before we talk about what would you do in response to that? I’m really interested in had people you know, I saw Fair Fight release a statement. And they are a, you know, a big group that people know nationally who have stood seemingly have stood alongside you. As you know, I’m not there. So maybe they didn’t stand beside you, but the statements seem like they did. Um. Have people been have have you had the allies you expected to have? Are there people who are being quiet behind publicly but behind the scenes on your side? I ask, because, you know, one of the things that I’ve seen in the past um couple of years for sure is as we do policy work around the country and I see local elected officials not actually defend the police in private anymore. They’re sort of like, we know they’re like, okay, it don’t work. But publicly they are very much in police land. But privately, in a way that that was not true five years ago. Privately, they were like we on team police publicly there. But we’ve been working on campaigns where they are like, DeRay, I get it, but give me something else. And and that has been really interesting. But I have been I have I had been looking for people that I thought would be your natural allies, especially in that forget the police part. But on the referendum part, for sure, who would be like, y’all, y’all can’t just not engage the signatures like that doesn’t seem fair. So I thought I’d ask.
Mary Hooks: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you know, this referendum, I think it has certainly it’s, it was built by, you know, a lot of everyday people and a lot of organizations that have had deep alliances where politically we have a lot of shared values with abolitionists, you know what I mean? We believe another world is possible. All the things committed to [?] struggle. And I think that um it took a while for some people to come around. It really did. And I think, one, because this has been historic, like it has not been done before in this city. And I think that we’re, in a city like Atlanta where the Atlanta way this um this weird uh this weird relationship between the Buckhead elites, the corporate elites and Black leadership and the and the elites that um come from that um have this this table in which they make decisions over our lives. And many people saw that to engage in a referendum site referendum fight is uh as undermining the Black leadership in this city. And so it was hard for some people to publicly come out.
DeRay Mckesson: Wow.
Mary Hooks: And support.
DeRay Mckesson: I didn’t even hear that, that’s wild.
Mary Hooks: Oh, yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: That’s quite a framing.
Mary Hooks: Oh, yeah. And so um I think that, you know, when we begin to when people begin to see that we not only we are going to gather the petitions, but we want to challenge them to broaden the scope of who could sign. We got more allies, we got more people saying, hey, y’all, right, this is a violation of people’s First Amendment. When the city um wouldn’t be transparent about their process and wouldn’t tell us what were the administrative protocols. We literally have gone through this process asking them directly, asking media to challenge them, tell us what we should expect, even down to how many, um how many petitions verified. So we’re all on the same page. And so we had people and and I wouldn’t want to betray their newly found trust um that were making calls on our behalf. That was calling up um uh Mayor Dickens and other council members to say, y’all better get this right. And I think the signature match, once um that came out publicly, that they were going to use that as a way to verify the signatures, all of these voting rights organizations in this in this state and in this city, um you know, felt betrayed by folks who they have you know used their resources, their power their labor to get in office and to challenge practices that have been used by the GOP and the right wing Republicans, and to now see “our people,” quote unquote, um try to initiate those same practices. I think through everybody, through everybody. And many calls are being made on our behalf. And, you know, I would be remiss if I didn’t name some of the organizations that have been ten toes down on this publicly. Right. You have um Sung Power. You have um the Working Families Party, the community movement builders, CASA, uh the Center for Popular Democracy, which CASA is an affiliate. The Movement for Black lives. Uh. The Black Male Initiative, Project South, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, um Black Voters Matter.
Bernice King has shared many statements making sure that democracy is being upheld. And so um we continue to see daily different um state representatives call them out um and and demand that we practice the democracy that we say that um we are we are stewards of in this broad red state. We’re supposed to be the bastion of democracy. And it’s been very disappointing for a lot of people to see this city be willing to um to throw that into the hands of the GOP to advance corporate interest.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom, are there any local elected officials who are standing publicly alongside you, is the council unanimous in their opposition? The mayor clearly is not on your side. Is there a comtroller? I don’t know. Is there anybody [laughter] who has been willing to stand publicly beside you who who’s elected?
Mary Hooks: You know, there is one council person, Liliana, who. Um. And, you know, all of them have had their moments of when they have diverted from from the support mission. Um. But she was I was one of the first I was the first person to sign the petition. And she happened to be in the hallway. And we said, hey, go ask her if she’ll sign. And I believe she was maybe the second or third person to sign the petition. Um. And other than Liliana, I would say that she has been the most outwardly consistent in terms of her support. We we are hoping that that support not just materializes in tweets in tweets and public statements, but it actually uh, you know, we hope that it materializes um where she actually puts um forces the city council to um make sure this gets on the ballot and uses the power that she has uh to do that.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom, okay tell us what comes next? The referendum, you filed the signatures. They’ve been playing with playing with it. What is what can we expect next? And then I’d love to know, what can people do to support?
Mary Hooks: Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, uh this movement to stop Cop City is broad and big and it has been decentralized and there are all manner of formations who um who are who are against this and fighting against it. And so we will continue to see people engage in nonviolent direct action. We will continue to pressure city council to move forward with the verification process. There are some legal battles that uh we know are coming our way because the city wants to try to stop this. And uh we know that they um perhaps may find favor in the courts, because as we can see in Georgia, uh the courts have have chosen a side. Um. And I’m referring to the recent RICO charges um that 61 people uh got the other week. Um. And so there are some legal battles that will be there, um but we’ll continue to mobilize people to put pressure on council to call upon our allies, both locally, statewide and nationally, internationally, um because we want to make sure that Atlanta sees the world is watching. And you can’t just betray everyday people who got you into office. When we say we want to vote on a thing and we don’t believe that you are representing our interest, we have the right to engage in a referendum and to engage in direct democracy. And so we hope that folks that are listening would continue to send resources to amplify the stories that are coming out of Cop City. Follow any of the organizations that I named if you want the real and honest truth about what is happening. The AJC, The Atlanta Journal-Constitutional cannot be trusted given, though they do cover the fight. They are also owned by Cox Media, who gives a great deal of money to this effort. Um.
DeRay Mckesson: And they had the–
Mary Hooks: And I think–
DeRay Mckesson: They are the biggest newspaper is that, agency–
Mary Hooks: Yes.
DeRay Mckesson: –is the newspaper. Okay.
Mary Hooks: Oh, yes. And um there is a call to action. There is a formation of people that is calling for a mass mobilization to happen on November 10th through the 13th here in Atlanta um in order to stop the construction. And so um as we also see how this turns out with the referendum, uh we hopefully will phase into a get out the vote campaign. And so for anybody who is interested in volunteering, if you came down for Warnock/Ossoff, Stacey Abrams, come on down for us too beloveds. Um. So there is much work to be done. And uh we love an outside agitator, contrary to what the city will say.
DeRay Mckesson: And what is the website or where do people go? Is it Facebook is it Twitter, is there a site like how do, you know, what where–
Mary Hooks: Yes.
DeRay Mckesson: –should people go to stay plugged in?
Mary Hooks: Yes, folks can uh follow uh @copcityvote, @copcityvote on Instagram, on Twitter. Um. Folks, I would also again encourage people to follow the Atlanta Press collective, follow them on Twitter uh it’s with some of the best the best reporting that we have locally. That’s telling the truth about all the things. And, you know, if you follow the hashtag on any social media platform, hashtag #stopCopCity, you’ll get a broad scope of all the moving um parts that is advancing this fight.
DeRay Mckesson: And can people follow you?
Mary Hooks: Oh, yeah, you can follow me, too. [laugh] I repost what everybody else [?]. But yes, um I’m not hard to find. Mary Hooks. @MaryHooks um on all social media. And I would also encourage people to give, if you can, to the Atlanta Solidarity Fund uh and their website. You can google them, Atlanta Solidarity Fund uh because again, comrades are 61 folks have are facing RICO charges, 40 uh 48 or so are facing domestic terrorism charges. And so we want to make sure that we have and any lawyers out there who want to who want to link up and help um provide some support. There’s been some financial resources for lawyers who can also help take on some of these cases and folks to reach out to, the Southern Center for Human Rights, SCHR Southern Center for Human Rights, to get more involved if you have some legal expertise to offer.
DeRay Mckesson: Okay. Let me back up just a minute. You talked about the RICO charges. Can you help people understand why they are a challenge? Like, why why is that a why did they not commit a crime that is worthy of RICO charges for people who have not read about this or not seen it? How would you explain the issue there?
Mary Hooks: Yeah. Um. So a few weeks before protesters were hit with RICO charges, the same panel of jurors um indicted Trump on RICO charges for undermining democracy. And this same panel uh indicted these 61 protesters for trying to advance democracy. What a wild world we’re in right now. And some of the charges, if you if you read the indictment, it says that folks were, um one one three people were charged because they were fliering. They were literally passing out fliers that had the name of the officer who murdered Tortuguita. Some were um uh the Atlanta bail fund. They have been indicted because uh or charged with RICO because they were paying bail. Um. You have folks some of the claims saying like they’re doing mutual aid, which many people do, churches do mutual aid. And so um there’s even a journalist who was literally just doing what journalists do, um who’s also being pulled into the RICO charges. And so every day, things that people are doing to advance democracy, to um exercise our freedom of speech, to take care of one another, as we know our social safety net has been cut and our money’s given to police. And as we’re trying to literally engage in survivor programs, this is what they are considering calling RICO. And so to your initial question, have they done anything that you, no they have not. No, they have not. And I hope that history will call them heroes and bearers of the truth and justice.
DeRay Mckesson: Last two questions, the questions we ask everybody. The first is what’s a piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that’s stuck with you?
Mary Hooks: Mm. I would say uh I would say um that this movement has hands large enough to hold all of us. Real talk. And you may not be the person that has to shut down the highway, but you could certainly be the person who watches the babies who, you know, pays a membership due, that um makes the posters, writes the press release like every everyone has something meaningful to contribute uh to this liberation struggle. And everyone should find an organization and play their part, find a role, get an assignment, and make a meaningful contribution.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. And the second question is, uh there are a lot of people whose hope has been challenged in the past ten years who, you know, they were in the street like you, like me. They voted, they testified, they called their grandma and let her know what was going on. And they would look up and say, I don’t know if anything’s changed. What would you say to the people whose hope is challenged in moments like this?
Mary Hooks: Yeah. Yeah, I would say that there’s two things I want to say. Um as Mariame Kaba reminds us that hope is a discipline. Hope is a discipline. And when our in in our current moment, when you look around and you can’t find much to have a lot of hope around for those who feel that way, then one can look back at history and be inspired for folks by folks our ancestors and other folks who have taken on righteous fights. Whose conditions some may say were worse than ours, you know, and who were able to keep hope alive. You know, we were able to keep hope alive in the worst of conditions. So if you can’t find it in the present, um allow history to give you the hope that you need. And then I would also say that, you know, part of being inside of this work, you know, initially, oftentimes when people come into this work, especially if they come in uh during an uprising or a protest moment, that, you know, it’s all passion and it’s like I got passion and I did something. I went to the protest, but you have to stay in it because those two things ain’t enough, right? And you have to stay in it and mature uh uh and be able to understand tactics and timing of tactics. And then even then you have to keep that hope because then things will evolve and you begin to see, okay, there’s also a spiritual element of this work that one has to begin to learn to embody for themselves uh that allows you to move in that way so that the wins aren’t just policy and material wins, but it’s also the cultural heart’s and mind’s work. That is what oftentimes keeps me hopeful and inspired when I see people change and shift the way they’ve thought about an issue or how they understood their life and all of those things. And so I think that if you feel that way, it’s an indication that you must keep going. Harriet Tubman said, even if you hear the dogs, if you hear if you you know see the see the torches, keep going. Because on the other side of feeling hopeless, there is much, much to be inspired by.
DeRay Mckesson: Well, we consider you a friend of the pod, can’t wait to have you back. Learned a lot and keep us posted on uh on what happens so that we can see the other side of this.
Mary Hooks: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. And thank you for your listeners uh for supporting these efforts. Uh. Atlanta’s just one place where we we are very clear that Cop City will never be be built here and we don’t want Cop City anywhere. So solidarity to those who are also in struggle um against um, um even on a global scale, um against imperialism, militarization, capitalism and all those things. Um. And let’s get free y’all. Let’s get free. [music break]
DeRay Mckesson: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning in to Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out and make sure you rate it wherever you get your podcasts. Whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else. And we’ll see you next week. Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrié and mixed by Evan Sutton, executive produced by me. And special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Myles E. Johnson. [music break]