In This Episode
- Russia gave Ukrainian forces in Mariupol an ultimatum earlier this week: surrender or die. Russian-backed separatists said only five people surrendered, which could mean that the city could be captured very soon.
- Voting rights organizations are funneling their support to the people on the ground who oversee local elections ahead of this year’s midterm elections. Amanda Litman from Run For Something joins us to discuss her new program called Clerk Work dedicated to recruiting and supporting thousands of candidates for local offices in charge of running elections.
- And in headlines: Florida’s Senate approved one of the nation’s most gerrymandered Congressional maps, South Carolina’s Supreme Court issued a temporary stay on Richard Moore’s killing, and Netflix’s stock price pledge by 35 percent.
- Run For Something: Sign-up for Clerk Work – https://wherecanirun.org/
- Washington Post: “Meet the woman behind Libs of TikTok, secretly fueling the right’s outrage machine” – https://wapo.st/3K1plDM
- Alex Pareene: “They Know How Journalism Works! They’re Just Against It!” – https://bit.ly/3EyD6Zw
Follow us on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/whataday/
Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Thursday, April 21st. I’m Tre’vell Anderson.
Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi, and this is What A Day, where we’re holding on to the keys to everybody’s planes until they promise not to fly over the Capitol without permission.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, there was an evacuation there yesterday after an army plane flew over. Turns out they were part of a Nationals game.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, no baseball. You need to get it together. What are you doing? We don’t do that.
Tre’vell Anderson: You’re supposed to know better. On today’s show, we talk about a new campaign to recruit you to be a local election official. Plus, we’re going to tell you about a recent Washington Post piece that we can’t stop talking about called “Meet the woman behind Libs of TikTok.”
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, just prepare yourselves for that. But first, a quick update on mask mandates. President Biden’s Justice Department said it had filed an appeal yesterday seeking to reinstate mask rules on public transit. The department was responding to a request from the CDC, which had issued a statement describing the mandate as still quote, “necessary for public health.” The DOJ has not won a stay in the ruling that repealed this mandate yet, so for now, masks remain optional on planes, trains, busses, and I imagine it will be chaotic trying to get people to put them back on, if that is what ultimately happens here.
Tre’vell Anderson: Not looking forward to that moment.
Priyanka Aribindi: No.
Tre’vell Anderson: But now let’s turn to the latest on Ukraine, starting with the southern port city of Mariupol. Earlier in the week, we mentioned an ultimatum that Russia gave to Ukrainian forces in the city. They basically told the remaining soldiers who are holed up in a steel mill plant in the city to surrender or die. Russian-backed separatists said only five people actually surrendered, which, assuming Russia isn’t bluffing, could mean that the city, which has been at the center of the almost two-month long war, could be captured very soon. A Ukrainian commander in the steel plant said his soldiers were, quote, “Maybe facing our last days, if not hours. The enemy is outnumbering us 10 to 1.” He continued, by making a plea to world leaders to help extract them.
Priyanka Aribindi: We are also seeing reports that it is not just armed forces in the steel mill, but also civilians. What is happening there?
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. So according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, there are also about 1,000 civilians hiding out in bunkers under the plant. And though Ukrainian authorities say a deal had been brokered with Russia to allow about 6,000 people in the city to evacuate safely over the last couple of days, a deputy commander told Ukrainian TV that civilians were too frightened to make their way to the evacuation points. We also have an updated count from the United Nations that puts the total number of refugees who have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24th at over five million, with more than half of them being children.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, it’s just awful. So what is the next stage of all of this look like?
Tre’vell Anderson: Well, President Zelenskyy said he remains ready to swap Russian prisoners of war in exchange for safe passage for the trapped civilians and Ukrainian soldiers. But as we know, negotiations between the countries have mostly been fruitless. Meanwhile, Russia has significantly ramped up its assault on eastern Ukraine in particular, and Russia also announced on Wednesday that it had successfully launched a new missile that can deploy nuclear warheads at hypersonic speeds anywhere in the world and outwit defenses, which is a move that Putin said was aimed at showing Russia’s adversaries that they needed to quote, “think twice before threatening his country.”
Priyanka Aribindi: Absolutely terrifying.
Tre’vell Anderson: We can only hope that it’s an empty threat, but of course, we will keep you all posted on these developments.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, honestly, I’m, I’m hoping there aren’t any developments there.
Tre’vell Anderson: Right.
Priyanka Aribindi: But who knows? Moving to some domestic news here in the US, we wanted to circle back to this year’s midterm elections and how important they are. We’ve been talking about them. I don’t, I don’t know if you guys have been paying attention, but they’re here, they’re coming and they are very important.
Tre’vell Anderson: Very important. And many voting rights organizations are funneling their support to the people on the ground who oversee local elections. Among those organizations is Run for Something, a group dedicated to recruiting and supporting young candidates running for local office. Priyanka, what did they just announce?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, so this week they launched an initiative called Clerk Work. It is a program dedicated to recruiting and supporting thousands of candidates for local offices in charge of running elections. So that’s county probate judges, county clerks, county election board members and more. These are positions most of us probably have never thought of before until they were caught in the crossfire of Trump’s Big Lie and suddenly became the most important things that our democracy hinges on. The idea is to back progressive candidates running for these positions so that we can prevent any future attempts to subvert our elections between now and 2024 and hopefully beyond. To learn a little more about the program and its overall goal we have with us today, Amanda Litman. She is the co-founder and co-executive director of Run for Something. Amanda, welcome to What A Day.
Amanda Litman: Of course.
Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s start with the problem that you and your team are trying to solve. So when we talk about attempts to subvert elections and democracy, what does that look like in our world today, you know, after January 6th? What should we be afraid of, especially on a local level?
Amanda Litman: So I always think it’s worth stepping back and really understanding the mechanics of how our elections are run. We do not have one single election in the United States. We have 50 state elections, many of which are run by secretaries of state, although some of them are run by other positions. They’ll be about 3,000 county elections. Then we have thousands more municipal elections, which are run by people called local election administrators. Those are people who determine things like where polling locations are, what language materials are available in what technology is used, how transparent the process is. In some places, they control the voter registration process, in other places they might control the certification process. They are quite literally the people running our elections. And when you think about what election subversion is going to look like in 2024, it is much less likely to be a violent mob storming the Capitol like we saw after 2020, and much more likely to be a QAnon or Nazi or a conspiracy theorist undermining faith in the process and fucking up the election in some way, shape, or form—whether it’s in a battleground state and messing with the vote count, or somewhere else and undermining faith in the process.
Tre’vell Anderson: So tell us a little bit about the Clerk Work program you just announced. What are you doing? Where is it happening?
Amanda Litman: So Clerk Work is Run for Something’s three-year, $80 million vision to save democracy from the ground up by getting people who care about our voters and care about democracy to run for the positions that literally run elections. And part of the reason we’re doing this is because we have seen how the far right has invested so much time and money to getting people to run for these offices. If you listen to Steve Bannon’s live streams or podcast—which, don’t—
Priyanka Aribindi: No. [laughs]
Amanda Litman: —but if you do, this is what he talks about. Like he talks about running for a precinct captain, he talks about running for election judge, he talks about running for county or city clerk. Trump said in front of a group of Republican donors, We care more about who’s counting the ballots than who’s on the ballot in the first place.
Tre’vell Anderson: Wow.
Amanda Litman: They are laying the groundwork for this to be how they subvert the election. So Run for Something is raising as much money as we can and recruiting as many candidates as we can to run in as many of these elected positions as possible.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, they’re quietly just assuming these positions. So rather than like very loudly being at the Capitol, it’s like, Oh, no, we’re just becoming a part of the daily like, structures that we rely on.
Amanda Litman: And it’s already happening. In 2020 Tina Peters was the Mesa County Clerk in Mesa County, Colorado. She is currently indicted for having shared secure election information with QAnon, specifically as part of a conspiracy theory. She’s now running for Secretary of State of Colorado. She got the Republican Party’s nomination or at least 60% of the votes at their big convention, and the Republican candidate for governor has said if he’s elected, he will pardon her. This is not a hypothetical. We have to be everywhere to stop it.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. In recent months, we’ve seen Republican-led state legislatures like Florida establish so-called “election police units” in charge of investigating election-related crimes. Obviously, many fear that such measures will further intimidate voters, especially in the upcoming midterm elections. In what ways does Clerk Work counter these types of efforts and initiatives?
Amanda Litman: Well, part of it is just making sure that the polling places are safe and welcoming and accessible. Part of it is increasing transparency into the process. Clerks can give transparency into how your ballot goes from you voting to it being counted. Brianna Lennon is an incredible county clerk in Missouri. She has like done videos to see: here is the technology that’s being used, here is where your vote gets counted, here’s how your ballot goes from step one to step two to step three to completion. I think even giving that transparency into the process really shows how hard it would be to undermine it unless you were maliciously doing so from the inside. So clerks have a bully pulpit they can use to, like, restore your faith in the technical ways in which our elections are run.
Priyanka Aribindi: So let’s talk a little bit more about these positions. You know, what kind of experience or skills you makes a good candidate? Who are the types of people you are recruiting for this? I mean, we have people listening to this podcast—would they be good fits, potentially?
Amanda Litman: Yes! If you are the kind of person that listens to this podcast, you should definitely consider it. It’s a very detail oriented job. It might or might not be a full time, it might or might not be fully-paid. You got to look up, you can go to Runforwhat dot net and get some more information about what’s on the ballot near you. But it is for someone who is really excited to, like, run a process. It’s very operational. It’s a lot of logistics, and it’s a lot of kind of figuring out how to really communicate with your community about a process that they might not have a ton of insight into. There’s also incredible resources for folks who want to learn how to run an election. So if you’ve never done this before, that’s totally normal. Most people haven’t.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, as someone who has a mom who is like very into MSNBC and the like, I don’t know, I feel like people listening to this might be in a similar boat. I feel like this is a good suggestion for those parents who might have a little extra time on their hands too.
Amanda Litman: You know, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t know that one of the big problems we’ve seen is that a lot of election administrators are older, a lot of them are retiring. There’s going to be a lot of open seats in the next year or two because people got pretty freaked out after 2020. Rightfully so. So, whether you’re a mom who watches MSNBC or a young person in college who’s like, Yeah, you know what, I’m ready to bring our elections in wherever I live into the 21st century, so that we’re no longer like using, you know, floppy disks in our local county office—which is not an exaggeration.
Priyanka Aribindi: Oh, my god.
Amanda Litman: You know, this is a job you can do. We will make sure you have all the skills you need. All you have to do is care, be willing to work hard for your campaign, and be willing to make the case to your neighbors why you should be in charge of really the the heart of the democratic process for their community.
Priyanka Aribindi: Amanda, thank you so much for being here. It is so exciting to watch you and Run for Something continue to succeed and roll out these amazing programs. Good luck with everything.
Amanda Litman: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. If you want to run, go to Runforwhat dot net. If you want to give Runforsomething dot net/donate. We need all the help we can get to grow this fast because the crisis is big. So whatever you can do helps.
Tre’vell Anderson: More on all of this very soon, but that is the latest for now. Let’s get to some headlines.
Tre’vell Anderson: More news out of the U.S. state that looks the most like a big thumb pointing down: Florida’s Senate approved one of the nation’s most gerrymandered congressional maps yesterday. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis—who I feel like we talk on the show about every single day—
Priyanka Aribindi: Truly every day.
Tre’vell Anderson: —proposed a new map that’s designed to add four GOP districts while eliminating three that had been previously held by Democrats, two of them being Black Democrats. Florida’s GOP-led House is expected to vote on this as early as today and send the map to DeSantis. But those who are against it, including the state’s Democratic attorney general, have already promised to sue. Meanwhile, in more Florida foolishness yesterday, the state’s Department of Health issued new guidance that trans children should not get gender-affirming medical care—that includes hormone therapies, puberty blocking drugs, and gender confirmation surgery. Instead, it said that kids should just talk to their friends and family or maybe a licensed professional. And I know that sounds like a joke, but we’re being serious here, and it is absurd.
Priyanka Aribindi: Truly.
Tre’vell Anderson: This new guidance goes against advice by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, along with other medical experts—which is par for the course for Florida, going against people who study these things.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Started to think there’s a reason that Florida is shaped like a thumbs down. It appears that we’re all figuring this out in real time. There is a follow-up to a story we talked about on Monday: death row inmate Richard Moore was scheduled to be executed by a firing squad in South Carolina at the end of the month. But yesterday, the state Supreme Court issued a temporary stay on his killing. Moore had been sentenced to death for the 1999 murder of a convenience store clerk. The court said it would release a more detailed order later explaining its decision. But in the meantime, Moore’s lawyers are separately asking a federal judge to consider whether capital punishment is cruel and unusual—I don’t know, feels like we already have an answer to that but—
Tre’vell Anderson: Sounds like it.
Priyanka Aribindi: Moore was given the option of being killed by the electric chair or by firing squad, and last week he announced that he chose the firing squad. Lawyers and activists argued that both choices are, quote, “barbaric methods of killing.” While the South Carolina Supreme Court put that execution on hold, they set a date for another one to take place. Convicted murderer Brad Sigman is set to be executed on May 13.
Tre’vell Anderson: South Carolina is never in the news for good things, unfortunately.
Priyanka Aribindi: No, they’re really not.
Tre’vell Anderson: Hate to see it. Creating stress for investors that even Great British Bake Off can’t cure, Netflix shares plunged this week after the streamer announced that it had lost subscribers for the first time since 2011. Netflix’s stock price fell by 35% yesterday morning in a year when it had already dropped by 40%. It’s now 2022’s worst performing stock on the S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 indexes.
Priyanka Aribindi: Sounds pretty bad.
Tre’vell Anderson: Sounds horrible, actually. As to what is driving the drop in subscriber numbers, which fell by 200,000 in the first quarter, the company pointed to increasing competition from newer streamers, plus widespread password sharing. Netflix also lost 700,000 subscribers when it pulled out of Russia, but even without that, the company would still be performing well below what it expected for the quarter. I personally blame Dave Chappelle, and I won’t be answering further questions.
Priyanka Aribindi: Nope! None.
Tre’vell Anderson: All right? In a call with investors on Tuesday, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings communicated a willingness to introduce an ad-supported option, and efforts to crack down on subscription sharing are already underway. Still, with over $50 billion disappearing from its market cap this week, Netflix execs must be feeling like a certain ruler of tigers who once said this:
[voice] Oh, my god. I’m never going to financially recover from this.
Priyanka Aribindi: Wow. That, I feel like I blocked out the period of time where we were watching that. But it’s all coming back to me—
Tre’vell Anderson: Coming back so quickly
Priyanka Aribindi: —in a way that is slightly triggering. Age may just be a number, but in South Korea, it can be three numbers. That is because the country currently uses multiple methods of determining someone’s birthday, though that could change soon, as the country’s president-elect has proposed standardizing things so South Koreans don’t get held up staring at the shelf with candles every time they have to decide which numbers to put on cake. To drill down a bit, most legal and administrative processes in South Korea use the same system to calculate age that we use here in the U.S. But there’s also a method described as ‘Korean age’ which counts newborn babies as one-year olds, then increases their age by one on New Year’s Day, regardless of their birth date. A third method is like Korean age, except children are born at zero instead of one. That method is used to determine eligibility for military service, plus a few other official applications. This means V from BTS can be 26, 27, and 28, all at the same time—sadly, only two of those ages fall in my dating range, but that’s why this needs to be figured out. The pitfalls of dueling birthdays just got put under the spotlight during the pandemic, when things like age of vaccine eligibility became murkier than was probably necessary. Lawmakers in Korea have tried to standardize age counting before, as recently as 2019 and 2021, but with no success. It remains to be seen if South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol has any better luck. Cutting down on birthdays isn’t always a popular position based on the number of people I know who believe in something called a “birthday week.”
Tre’vell Anderson: Yes! Shout out to all the Leos. We love a birthday week. Our time is coming soon.
Priyanka Aribindi: Who doesn’t? As long as you’re not making it a month, like, you’re fine. Have your week, do your thing.
Tre’vell Anderson: And those are the headlines. We’ll be back after some ads to talk about a story that has Tucker Carlson’s head spinning: an exposé about the Libs of TikTok.
Tre’vell Anderson: Hey WAD squad, we’re going to wrap up today’s show by getting you up to speed on a story that has the right-wing media frothing at the mouth, but we want to clear the air on it. It has to do with a recent Washington Post piece by reporter Taylor Lorenz called “Meet the woman behind Libs of TikTok, secretly fueling the right’s outrage machine.” We’ll link to it in our show notes so you can read it too, but Priyanka, set it up for us.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, here is the spark notes. Buckle up, this is a ride. So there is this Twitter account called Libs of TikTok. Basically, it repost videos from TikTok and other news and social media posts, primarily by or about LGBTQ+ people, and they’re framed in a way to be inflammatory—to make them look bad, to generate outrage among the right. You can probably imagine you know what kind of garbage this is posting. This account has grown a lot in the past year. Its content regularly ends up on some of the biggest platforms and shows in right wing-media, including Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan, to name a few—those are also three members of a true nightmare blunt rotation, to use a term from yesterday’s holiday. And what specifically caught on from Libs of TikTok is some of the anti-trans things it has posted. They’ve pushed the conspiracy theory about litter boxes in school bathrooms for kids who identify as cats—which is not a thing. They’ve also called on followers to contact schools about their bathroom policies, and pushed ideas that people teaching about LGBTQ+ identities are abusive.
Tre’vell Anderson: I’m just struck by how absurd so many of these things are, but the way that you know these folks are actually passing them off as like legitimate truths that people should be concerned about.
Priyanka Aribindi: Right. Like, this account is basically like identifying scapegoats of all of these, like bigger ideas that the right-wing media can then use to be like, See, look at this person, look what they’re doing. It’s really awful. But this goes beyond ridiculing people who are on the internet and on TV, it’s also directly impacting policy. The press secretary for Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican governor—who, we have already mentioned on the show, there’s already a Ron DeSantis bit in here, but nope, there’s more—credited this account with informing her views on the state’s Don’t Say Gay bill, and quote, “opening her eyes”—which is alarming. Yeah. All of this is just really toxic stuff. If you are a person who doesn’t live in this corner of the internet, as I hope most of us are, you’re probably are like, What is this disgusting nonsense?
Tre’vell Anderson: I also if I was a press secretary for someone, wouldn’t be bragging that I learned these things on TikTok. Ok? Like, I don’t know.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I’m sorry. Don’t tell people that. Don’t tell, like one of the biggest newspapers in the country. That’s a little embarrassing. Maybe have a little—
Tre’vell Anderson: It’s a little foolish, but how are people responding to the article?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, people are freaking the fuck out. Some are calling this a doxing campaign because in the article, Lorenz examines the origins of this account and published the name of the woman behind it. She is a real estate salesperson who apparently lives in Los Angeles. Side note: this is very much not doxing.
Tre’vell Anderson: At all.
Priyanka Aribindi: It just includes her name. As part of the reporting that went into it, Lorenz said a Washington Post reporter tried to reach this woman a number of ways, first by phone. When that didn’t work, she knocked on the door of an address associated with that woman according to public records. All of these are basic reporting practices. Journalists do their due diligence to try and talk with the subjects of their stories, to hear their side. Like none of this is nefarious in any way. This is an account that influences news and policy and has hundreds of thousands of followers. It’s not like this isn’t public interest or that it’s being reported incorrectly. Lorenz has also been a victim of online harassment campaigns herself. She’s been really outspoken about it. So now people are calling her a hypocrite for writing this article, but that’s really not at all true, or what’s happening.
Tre’vell Anderson: It’s definitely not what’s happening here. So her report has obviously taken a life of its own and become the new focus of the right-wing media, right?
Priyanka Aribindi: Right. So there is a software developer who Lorenz mentions in the story as unearthing some of this account’s deleted tweets and changes over time. And this person is working on an open-source project that’s supported by a fund that receives funding from Germany. That seems like an obscure detail, doesn’t really matter that much. No, no, no. Not if you’re Tucker Carlson. This led to a batshit crazy rant on his show on Tuesday night. Take a listen for yourselves:
[clip of Tucker Carlson] In other words, what happened to the woman who run Libs of TikTok, her life being destroyed, was not the work of Taylor Lorenz, the fearless journalist who cries on TV from her PTSD! No, it was a foreign intelligence operation designed to silence and intimidate an American citizen. Wait, is that legal? Did the Biden administration have any role in this particular intel op?
Tre’vell Anderson: Oh, girl.
[clip of Tucker Carlson] Why is the German government trying to shut down an American Twitter account posting about American teachers?
Tre’vell Anderson: It is so interesting how folks like Tucker Carlson take the smallest thing and like blow it up into the most absurd foolishness that you can not even wrap your head around.
Priyanka Aribindi: No.
Tre’vell Anderson: That doesn’t make sense.
Priyanka Aribindi: There is that, A. And B, I feel personally attacked by how loud that was in my ear by our sound engineer. Bill! Love ya, but that was very, extremely triggering to me. There you have it, though. That is my best attempt to recap this story and all of the surrounding hoopla. We will include a link to the original article by Taylor Lorenz in our show notes, along with a thoughtful piece by journalist Alex Pareene about the response that followed.
Tre’vell Anderson: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, have a Happy Birthday no matter how many times you celebrate it. And tell your friends to listen.
Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading, and not just friends’ Netflix passwords like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.
Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson.
[together] And stay on the ground, airplanes!
Priyanka Aribindi: Not my airplane tomorrow. No, no. I’m flying tomorrow. You need to be getting off the ground.
Tre’vell Anderson: You have permission to take flight. OK?
Priyanka Aribindi: Thank you, thank you. Just me, though.
Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.