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Pod Save The People

The Blackest State (with Soledad O’Brien)

DeRay, Sam, De’Ara, and Kaya tackle this week’s overlooked news, including poisoned baby powder, DC statehood, major strides in police reform, and school reopening issues. DeRay chats again with Johnetta Elzie about the current protest climate. Then, DeRay connects with journalist Soledad O’Brien, to discuss her new podcast and how race shapes our reception of media.


DeRay [00:00:02] Hey, this is DeRay. Welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode, it’s me, Sam, Kaya and De’Ara talking about the news. And then we’re joined by Soledad O’Brien, the one and only, to talk about her new podcast and what’s happening in the news writ large. And our special guest tonight, Johnetta Elzie, to give us an update of what’s going on in the protests today. Let’s go. 

DeRay [00:00:24] So this has been you know, it feels like every day is like a new year going on, and we are right in the middle of pride. Pride is happening right now. And I’m always reminded of the first Pride was actually response to the police. But I wanted to just know how are y’all celebrating pride. What have you seen happen with pride? 

Kaya [00:00:39] I went down to the village today and there was not an official pride parade, but there were lots of people out for pride. The police had blocked off some of the streets and so there were revelers marching and kind of hanging out. And interestingly enough, many of them had a Black Lives Matter sign or Black Trans Lives Matter Sign or Gays Against Guns. It was a very political pride. And so you couldn’t really tell if it was pride or a protest. And then sort of a few blocks away, there were protesters who also had a lot of pride going on. And so there was just a lot of activity today, lots of people out in the village, most of whom had on their masks. 

De’Ara [00:01:22] That’s good. I you know, as a nearly 40 year old lesbian, going out for pride is not really a thing for me any longer. My fiancee is going to have a heart attack when she hears that but it’s, it’s a lot for me. 

De’Ara [00:01:39] So we actually went to the Rockaways today, which I’d never been to before, which was very cute. But I think in terms of pride, obviously celebrating pride, I want to talk about the elections that happen this week with Richie Torres and Samy Nemir Olivares and there’s so many amazing people, queer Afro Latino men, that are perhaps going to Congress. We don’t know for sure yet, but I think that’s probably the biggest pride celebration for me this week, is that for the first time, it’s kind of crazy when you think about it. It’s the first time we’ll have openly queer men of color in Congress. So that’s my. If I had I like a noise machine now that be like my little noise machine. Boom, boom, boom. That’s how I’m feeling like I’m celebrating my pride. 

DeRay [00:02:23] And Mondaire, Mondaire in New York.

De’Ara [00:02:29]   Yes! Yes! Mondaire, I thinks it’s the 16th and 17th congressional district. So big up hopefully. I think all the votes will be in officially by June 30th. So we’ll know for sure. 

De’Ara [00:02:37] But yeah. That’s really, really exciting news for this Pride Week. 

Sam [00:02:41] Yeah. So I’ve been indoors in quarantine. 

Sam [00:02:45] Haven’t gone out much. I haven’t seen much of anything for forever. 

Sam [00:02:50] But I will say, you know, just being in New York and seeing some of the election returns come in. It is really cool to see a huge wave it seems like a progressive wave, a wave of younger folks, folks who are queer folks coming into office, replacing in many cases, people who’ve just been there for like 20, 30 years. And I think that that is really exciting. It’s exciting to see that in New York in particular, because I think just since moving here, I’ve just become aware of some of the legacy sort of politicians and politics here, where just there are many people who’ve been in office, it seems forever. And it’s cool to see sort of a wave of change happening. I’m hopeful that that actually translates into change in the general election, too. 

DeRay [00:03:33] It is wild De’Ara, like you said, that this will be the first time that like a wave, hopefully gueer vote in Congress, like that sort of wild.  You know, I always think about pride as like a moment where as a kid growing up, I wish I had seen people the wear rainbows or something to signify that they are in solidarity. And like I didn’t see any of that. It felt very lonely being a black gay boy in Baltimore. So I’m always proud when I see people out and like I see the rainbow and I know that there’s a commodification of pride that happens, t’s not good and there’s a commercialization of it that’s not good. I’m also reminded of that, the power of signaling. And, you know, when I think about the work ahead, it’s like we have to protect Black Trans women in ways that we’re just not doing right. That like every week it seems we see how a new person killed, a new tran sibling harmed in public. And it’s made a spectacle. And like we just have not done the work as community to protect trans siblings. And like, you know, I don’t know as much about what the solutions look like. And we actually need to cover that on the pod as like an interview you now that I think about it. But let’s go to the news. 

Kaya [00:04:34] My news is about school reopening. And I want to start by focusing on Fairfax County, Virginia. Fairfax County is in northern Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C., is one of the largest school districts in the country. It has one hundred eighty nine thousand students. And last week, Fairfax released their proposal for a school opening in the fall. And they were one of the first districts actually to release really concrete plans. They effectively said families could choose either 100 percent virtual learning. So kids staying home through the fall and that would be four days a week of virtual learning. Or families could choose two days in person, two days virtual. And they gave families and teachers two weeks to choose an option. Well, the three major teacher associations in Fairfax have revolted and they have told their members to refuse to teach in person. They say that face to face teaching is unsafe for their teachers. They say that there’s not been enough time for families and staff to make a real decision. And they say that they won’t instruct their teachers to teach in-person until the officials work with them on more detailed plans, although the school officials say that the teachers associations have been at the table the whole time working on these plans.  And I think this is the first indication of the kind of challenges that we are going to expect to see as schools try to reopen over the coming weeks. In most cases, schools are going to reopen sometime in the next six to eight weeks. In some places, schools reopen as early as mid August, and that sort of rolls through to Labor Day. But there are so many different priorities that school districts and families and teachers and everybody involved have to juggle. I think that we’re going to see lots of challenges around how you meet all of these different priorities. So what do I mean? I mean, first of all, you need to invite family and faculty input into the plan. And so lots of schools and districts have asked families and staff what they want. You also need to finalize decisions fairly quickly if you’re going to do training with teachers, if you’re going to order more supplies, if you’re going to do any kind of other preparation. You actually need time to finalize those decisions as soon as possible so that you can get rolling in preparation. You have lots of budgets that I do right now. Literally this week in many districts, there are school budgets are due June 30th, July 1st. And what we know is there’ll be lots of budget cuts. And so in many cases, they are making plans without having a clear idea of how many teachers might be laid off. And I think teacher layoffs are going to come in mass because whenever you cut school budgets, 90 percent of school budgets are in personnel. And so when you’re making big cuts to school budgets, you’re effectively making the decision to lay off people. And I don’t think that we have any clear idea. States are not talking about that. They are announcing these reopening plans without talking about the fact that staff may be compromised. We need more time for cleaning. And we need time to set up the schedules for more cleaning. We have teachers who have kids at home and we have teachers who want their kids to go to school so that they can teach. And we’re talking about reopening the economy and getting people back to work when people may not have a place to send their kids when they are going to work. And so that’s a problem. I think what you should expect to see is everything across a range in Connecticut. They are saying that they will go back to school in the regular way, five days a week in person, because in Connecticut, the governor is saying he wants to prioritize employees having a place to send their kids. In other places, you can expect either all virtual or a hybrid model where kids are in school some days a week and not in school other days at a week. You can expect to see students and staff in mask’s you can expect to see social distancing. You can expect more cleaning. People are calling for temperature checks before kids come in. People are talking about limiting whether parents can actually come into the building or other visitors. Many people are asking that if anybody tests positive, that schools are closed immediately. I saw one proposal that calls for a full time nurse in every building anytime that there are people there, which is fascinating because in fact, we don’t have enough nurses to have a full time nurse in every school building, if we had all the money in the world.  I saw one teacher’s union proposal which asked for a protective barrier to be put up at the teacher’s desk to keep the teacher protected from children. And so I think there are lots of complications with many of these proposals. Right. How do you ensure that your second graders are kindergartners, stay socially distant and keep their masks on all day? Right? There are big questions around what’s really realistic. There are big questions around what we actually have time to prepare for and questions around what budgets will support. And so my worry is that parents need real clarity around what their options are for school reopening. And I think that we are going to see lots of challenges around providing that clarity for parents and for teachers. 

Sam [00:10:06] So this is really wild. And I hadn’t quite fully comprehended all of the decisions that need to be made in advance and how far in advance they need to be made in order to move a whole system like a school district in response to something like this, in the context of a pandemic where if you look at the numbers, it’s not looking like this is going away, if anything, particularly in the Sunbelt area and the south it’s getting worse. And so we have no idea where we’ll be in a month. But it’s not looking good. And to have to prepare now for what can happen many months down the road seems virtually impossible. And then you couple that with the fact that each county, each school district is developing its own plans. Each state has its own plans around opening up the economy, opening up schools, all of that. So it’s this decentralized decision making that in the context of a pandemic is even more challenging, because if the county next door is doing something different and things are starting to spread there, you’re not suddenly inoculated from that. It seems like an almost impossible challenge. You know, hats off to educators. Hats off to school administrators who are having to navigate this and make the best decisions possible with the amount of information we have. But, yeah, I mean, I don’t know if there’s an easy answer. If we can even plan at all right now for what could happen next month, let alone the month after that. 

Kaya [00:11:24] I mean, that’s absolutely right, Sam, and I think people don’t understand all of the interlocking pieces that have to be in place in order for this stuff to move forward. And I think we’ve got to have a little grace like we don’t know what’s going to happen next month or the month after that. And these educators and these officials are doing the best they can in an absolutely imperfect situation. 

De’Ara [00:11:46] And I think the other thing that a lot of the plans that I’ve been seeing, whether it’s plans for kids to go back to schools or campuses or even corporations, is that there seem to be a lack of thoughtfulness around the folks that are most vulnerable to Covid. And so that’s the other piece of this. 

De’Ara [00:12:02] If black folks and Latin text folks and indigenous folks are dying at higher rates, how do these plans account for that? How are we making sure? I mean, when we start talking about Fairfax County, the first thing I started to think about was the makeup, the demographic makeup of Fairfax County. It’s highly LatinX, it’s highly, you know, African-American and like what does that mean in count form when it comes to the health of parents, the health of teachers and obviously the help of students. So just also wondering how that piece comes in. And just as someone who’s worked in government, it’s also seems really crazy that all these different plans are happening at such decentralized levels, county to county, state to state. And they also don’t account for the health department. And a lot of these states, like a lot of the responsibility of this and really the health department in Virginia should be factored in in terms of how they’re going to step in if there are increased numbers of cases when schools open. 

DeRay [00:12:56] You know, I taught sixth grade math, but the thought that I would get sixth graders who didn’t really finished fifth grade math and then be responsible for teaching the sixth grade math would be a lot like even the best teachers are struggling to do that, like guys just like a hard thing to do. So I think about all the kids who are learning how to read, you know? You know, Kaya, you talk about how to get a kindergarten socially distance and I’m like, that’s it. Like, that is gonna be hard to get them to keep the mask. You know, like the kid, they’re like little kids, right? The pre-K kids are like, just come to school the first time. And this question about can their parents even come in the building? I even think about, you know, as a former human capital person like you were Kaya before you became superintendent. It’s like, I think about grief counselors. Right? What happens when somebody, you know, might get sick or pass away? And like those kids will be it’ll be their teacher, you know? And do we, how we just plan for that upfront, I think we’ll be a really interesting. 

Kaya [00:13:51] Even if nothing happens, kids and adults are suffering from the trauma of having been out for six months. Right? What does that look like? I mean, if you notice in my news, I didn’t say anything about academics. We can’t even get to learning yet because there are so many just plain old basic operational issues that can’t seem to be resolved. And the learning loss that is going to happen, that has happened is tremendous. This is going to set us back for generations. And of course, the people who are going to be most affected by the learning lost are low income students and our minority students. Period.  The end. 

DeRay [00:14:27]  Just like it’ll be all these all these kids like Sam who literally have not left the house in my two weeks will suddenly come back to school. And you’re right, I didn’t even think about like that, just like what’s going to happen when or when kids come back to be together for the first time and like processing what it was like to be home and all that. 

DeRay [00:14:46] So I’m happy we talked about it. This will be a conversation that we should continue having over the weeks as we get closer. 

Kaya [00:14:51] There were I think there will be lots of news around this. 

Sam [00:14:54] So my news is about the George Cloyed Justice in Policing Act, which is legislation that’s being spearheaded by Democrats in Congress this past week. The legislation passed. The House Democrats voted unanimously for the bill, and I believe there were three Republicans who supported it as well. Now it is in the Senate where it is getting less of a positive reception, particularly from Republicans who seem opposed to core elements of the bill. So what does this bill do? This bill was initiated in response to the most recent wave of protests against police violence. It contains a number of measures that the federal government can take to address this issue. So first and foremost, it ends qualified immunity, which I’ve talked about in previous episodes. But by ending that, it makes it more likely that officers can be successfully sued for misconduct. It also strengthens the ability of the Department of Justice to investigate and charge officers criminally for misconduct, excessive force. It also bans the transfer of military weapons like tanks and grenade launchers and military aircraft to local police departments and implements a number of data collection measures and other measures related to use of force policies banning chokeholds banning no-knock warrants for departments that receive federal funding. So that’s a broad overview of what it does. It obviously doesn’t go far enough in the federal government’s role to be limited in what it can do to address the issue of police violence, in part because this is a decentralized issue similar to school systems, policing tends to operate at city and county level, with most police funding actually happening at city and county level, a little bit more at the state level and then very little funding, if any, is actually received from the federal government for the vast majority of police departments. So the bill is relatively limited, but it is still stronger than what the Republicans have proposed. So the Republican proposal essentially requires departments that receive federal funding to report data on people who were killed by police or seriously injured, most of which we already have because of the work that we’ve been doing, the work that folks in Washington Post and Fatal Encounters have been doing to collect this data anyway over the past six years. The Republican bill also gives police departments even more money to implement trainings around de-escalation and other topics that don’t have strong evidence of effectiveness in actually reducing police violence. So the Republican proposal is not going to make a big impact here at all. Democratic proposal’s a little bit better. But Republicans right now are opposing it, in part because they’re not willing to end qualified immunity and don’t believe that some will be more restrictive measures around militarization and banning no-knock warrants should be a part of federal legislation. So this is all ongoing. You should be calling your members of Congress, typically your senators, and tell them to vote for this bill. But overall, this is still stuck in the Senate and hopefully there’ll be enough pressure to push this through. 

De’Ara [00:17:53] You know, Sam, the thing that hit me to hardest about this article was the fact that this bill also includes the anti lynching bill that Cory Booker and Kamala Harris and Tim Scott brought to the Senate last year, which still hasn’t been passed, which I guess it’s like it really starts to like contextualize why we’re having so much trouble getting a police reform bill passed. 

De’Ara [00:18:17] If we can’t all agree that there shouldn’t be lynching in the fact that this anti lynching bill is the Emmett Till lynching bill, Emmett Till was murdered in 1955. 1955 to 2020, what much has changed? So I think that was what was most compelling to me about really thinking about the whole picture here. 

Kaya [00:18:35] De’Ara. I was thinking something similar. I was like, okay, can’t we just get to some of the real basics, like chokeholds? Not good. Can’t we all agree? I don’t understand how these representatives stand up and call themselves leaders and call themselves servants of the people when they cannot even protect the sanctity of human life. This is low on Maslow’s hierarchy, as far as I’m concerned. And we are so busy politicking that we cannot agree that we should at least keep people safe. What is that about? 

DeRay [00:19:09] In reading the bills, I didn’t realize, Sam, the registry about police misconduct that both sort of bills address in some way. I didn’t realize that the Republican bill allows for the registry only to be looked at by law enforcement officials. So that’s not a win. So having a database of police misconduct that agencies have to check before they hire somebody and only the police can even see the database is sort of a bizarre thing that, like the whole point of the registry, is that there’s accountability and transparency. The Democrats bill does make the registry public, but it doesn’t sanction police departments who check a new hire against the registry, find a history misconduct and hire the officer anyway. You know that feels like a questionable win.  Aan even with the funds going for independent investigatory bodies of the police, the money’s going to go to local police departments, but the bill doesn’t even, even the Democratic bill doesn’t mandate those bodies exist for federal police agencies. Police departments don’t need any more money. And the last thing is that we think about Breonna Taylor is that the Republican bill literally puts no restrictions on no knock warrants. Instead, it tells the states that they need to collect more data, as we said. But I didn’t realize that the Democrats bill, it does bar the use of no knock warrants for federal drug investigations. And then it removes funding for state and local jurisdictions that don’t do the same. But interestingly, the Democrats bill requires only that the police officers execute drug warrants, “only after providing notice of his or her authority and purpose.” So this is sort of a it’s called what people call a knock-and announce-requirement, which is supposed to be better than a no-knock. But remember that in the case of Breonna Taylor, the cops said that they actually did knock and announce. So part of what we need to get to is a place where we actually bar any forced entry into somebodies home unless there’s like some imminent danger and threat. And we should not be knocking anybody’s door down for drugs like that should be something that we all agree on. 

De’Ara [00:21:09] So my news, we’re going to talk about D.C. statehood. Yea, because Congress voted yes to it. 

De’Ara [00:21:15] I doubt it will go anywhere. I doubt I’ll go anywhere in the Senate with, you know, Mitch McConnell. Rand Paul. Boo, but. 

De’Ara [00:21:22] Right now, for the first time ever, it went to vote and Congress declared that, yes, they were ready for D.C. to become the nation’s 51st state. 

De’Ara [00:21:34] The vote, of course, was, you know, fell mostly across party lines. And it really was, I believe, an effort to really grapple with the systematic racism that’s been happening in D.C. for many, many years and obviously across the country. So I think it really was sparked by recent events and protests. So ya’ll, essentially since 1973, D.C. has been under this Home Rule Act. So with the Home Rule Act, D.C. can have a lot of control of what it does legislatively. But at the end of the day, Congress really controls what D.C. can do and also the power that D.C. elected officials have in Congress. For example, Congress maintains the power to overturn local laws. It exercises a greater oversight of the city than exists for any other U.S. state. The district’s elected officials basically exist at the pleasure of Congress and could theoretically their power could be revoked or their place there could be revoked at any time. In the house

De’Ara [00:22:28] D.C. has a delegate who we’ve known to be Eleanor Holmes Norton, and she’s been there for a few decades. She’s not allowed to vote on the House floor, but can vote on procedural matters and in congressional committees.  D.C. residents have no representation in the Senate. And when it comes to presidential elections, D.C. is entitled to the same number of electoral votes as the least populous state in the election. 

De’Ara [00:22:52] So that’s typically Wyoming and Vermont. One of the arguments has been for years is that the reason why D.C. doesn’t have statehood is because it’s a black run city. It’s had black mayors since 1973. Walter Washington, Marion Barry, Sharon Pratt Kelly, Marion Barry 

De’Ara [00:23:09] Again, no judgment. Anthony A. Williams. Adrian Fenty, Vincent Gray, and Muriel Bowser, who’s our current mayor. Muriel Bowser really touched my heart this week when she said I was born without representation. 

De’Ara [00:23:22] But I swear I will not die without representation. 

De’Ara [00:23:26] OK, Muriel. She did the Black Lives Matter on the street there. Now she’s saying things like this. OK. We see her shout out to Muriel Bowser. 

De’Ara [00:23:36] So, again, you know, I think there’s this whole connotation-with anything being black run, a government entity-there is corruption or there’s some type of dysfunction. And that’s kind of the narrative that Republicans have been selling when it comes to D.C. statehood for some time now. So who knows what will happen in the Senate? It’s probably unlikely. But I think it’s a huge, huge historic moment for D.C. and D.C.’s representatives who have been disenfranchized for a very long time. 

Sam [00:24:01] So, De’Ara this was interesting reading through this article, because some of the same arguments that were used by the Republicans against this bill are pretty much exactly the same arguments that they’ve been using for decades and even centuries to deny the ability of folks living in D.C. to have political representation. So these arguments around D.C. doesn’t have the infrastructure or doesn’t have the capacity to govern itself. Someone said it should just be a part of Maryland, they should just attach it to Maryland and it will be part of that state. But they won’t have two senators and their own state with representation in Congress. If D.C. becomes a state, which I hope it it does and I hope that it happens now rather than later, although we flip the Senate and eliminate the filibuster, then it could happen fairly quickly. If D.C. becomes a state, then we’re talking about a state with a black population, about 46 percent, the Blackest state in the country. There are only three black senators right now. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Tim Scott, on the Republican side. I think just having a state that has two senators, a substantial black population could change just the demographic composition of the Senate in ways that are fascinating, could change the political dynamics in the Senate, which right now skews so heavily towards more rural and whiter states, just by the design of the Senate that prioritizes those states, every state gets two senators but D.C. gets none. And so you have places like Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, places all the way up in a very small populations. But a lot of power in the Senate and D.C. has never had that power. And so I’m hopeful that this and also the admission of Puerto Rico as a state, if they choose to be one, I think could be a really powerful change to the way that politics has been happening, particularly in the Senate, which has been one of, if not be most frustrating institutions of all. 

De’Ara [00:25:58] Yeah, and I think just being from D.C., I mean, it’s just undeniable, the culture that exists in D.C., that is D.C. And I think the very notion that D.C. doesn’t have statehood, I think the case is clear to me that it comes down to systemic racism. I mean, considering also it’s like the home of Howard University. It’s the home to so many great thinkers and educators, etc. So, so many people who are not just contributing, but really defining what progress looks like in this country. And I think it’s really no accident at all that D.C. hasn’t had its statehood. It hasn’t really been a part of the national conversation up until now. 

Kaya [00:26:32] As a still taxpaying resident of Washington, D.C., I still have a home in Washington. I still pay taxes in Washington. There is so much that people don’t know about this statehood thing. People have no idea that D.C. residents pay more in federal taxes than any other jurisdiction per capita. People don’t know that D.C. actually has more people in it than Wyoming and then Vermont. People don’t know that in Washington, D.C. we had a medical marijuana referendum on a ballot a decade ago and we passed it and Congress decided not to release the results of the election because they were not supportive of medical marijuana at the time. People have no idea what this lack of statehood means. It means that when the federal government shuts down, the whole city of Washington, D.C., is supposed to shut down. I was supposed to shut down my schools when the federal government shut down and the mayor, Vincent Gray, at the time, ended up declaring us all essential workers so that we could keep schools open.  When the federal government couldn’t clean up the parks because it was shut down when they couldn’t collect their trash. D.C., which we don’t have an infrastructure?  We have the infrastructure to actually keep the city running while the federal government was shut down over political crapola. And so this “we don’t have the infrastructure. We don’t have enough people. We don’t know how to govern ourselves,” it is galling, frankly, and there is no real reason, there is no real reason, no cogent explanation. When I write my check to Washington, D.C., to the IRS, I am getting hit in ways that other people are not getting hit. And yet you tell me I don’t deserve to have my voice represented in Congress. It’s it’s ridiculous. And so I’m proud of the fact that Congress finally got around to recognizing it. But I hold the Democrats responsible, too, because this bill has been a long time coming. And I’m unfortunately not super hopeful because it’s not going to get through the Senate. And then the president would veto it if it did get through the Senate. And so I don’t know what freedom means in this country if taxpaying people can’t have representation in Congress. People don’t understand why our license plates say no taxation without representation. That’s the reason why. Sorry, I’m a little heated about this now. 

De’Ara [00:29:02] It’s wonderful. It was great. 

DeRay [00:29:04] So when we talk about the racist arguments, let me just show you what Senator Tom Cotton, which sounds you know, that’s quite a name. He said literally in his argument against statehood. Would you trust Mayor Bowser to keep Washington safe if she were given the powers of a governor? Would you trust Marion Barry?”  Like that literally, is what he said. It is. It is just clear racism. The idea that black people couldn’t possibly run this city  well, that white people must oversee them. 

Kaya [00:29:35] And every other mayor in America is absolutely on top of your P’s and Q’s. And there is nobody who we should question their either. Right? 

DeRay [00:29:43] It’s nuts. It did make me think, too, about the conversation about Puerto Rico. You know, we think about the millions of people that live in Puerto Rico and it’s lack of representation we think about the horrific national disasters that have happened in Puerto Rico. And Lord knows the government has done very little. I didn’t even realize that in December of last year that Trump intervened and budget talks specifically to slash Medicaid funding to Puerto Rico. He cut it in half, which is like, you know, I feel like I missed that in the conversation. But Puerto Rico has been getting the short end of the stick for a long time. And that we actually we while while we push this D.C. conversation, which is a necessary conversation, we can’t lose sight of Puerto Rico that like.  You know, the government has really not done much to help Puerto Rico, especially under this president. And I want to see that conversation move to. 

DeRay [00:30:34] Now, my news, I’m fascinated. You know, growing up, I had heard people talk about baby powder and I don’t know about ya’ll, but I heard people say baby powder causes cancer. Like I just heard like people would say that is sort of like old wives tale. 

DeRay [00:30:47] They were right. Baby powder ya’ll. The talc in baby powder has asbestos. So the article is about women with cancer awarded billions in a baby powder suit. So Johnson and Johnson is actually pulling baby powder off the market in North America, but they will continue to sell it everywhere else in the world, which is also wild. Right? Like, if it’s ot safe for North Americans, then you probably should be got them out of the entire chain. What I also did’t know is that the appellate courts noted that in Johnson and Johnson’s internal memos, going back as far as the 60s, they had indicated that the talcum products contained a substance and that the mineral can be dangerous. There have been studies that have linked it to ovarian cancer and the main ingredient, baby powder and a host of other baby product such as talc, which is a natural mineral that gives the baby powder its fragrance and is said to be actually one of the most recognizable fragrances in the world. But in 1958, asbestos was first linked to a ovarian cancer and the International Agency for Research on Cancer affirmed it was the cause of cancer in 2011. 

DeRay [00:31:54] So we think about that. Thirty three thousand bottles of baby powder that the FDA pulled after they discovered asbestos in bottles bouight from an online retailer. That’s a lot of baby powder pull off the shelves. Johnson and Johnson say that their their products were exonerated after further testing. But you think about the sheer number of kids, babies and mothers who grew up using baby powder four times a day on their babies and like had no access to information that told them this wasn’t safe, besides sort of a community of women and caregivers telling them like that is just I think about I think about all the people who didn’t file a lawsuit. All the people who didn’t have access to a lawyer. All the people who couldn’t get to class action suit all the people whose grandmothers and mothers died from ovarian cancer. Thinking that there was some sort of thing that happened in the world or really it was baby powder like that blew my mind. I hope that every woman and every child impacted, like, is able to get a lawyer and s Johnson and Johnson. And it is galling to me that they could discontinue in North America and then put all these other people at risk in other continents. So I want to bring me here because I was fascinated by and I hadn’t really heard this much in the news. 

De’Ara [00:33:08] So I’ll jump in because I grew up getting baby powder put on my chest before I went to school. That was like a part of our hygiene routine. So I think about all of the folks of color who did the same thing.  And DeRay, 

De’Ara [00:33:25] To your point about, you know, folks that may not have access to representation or even knew that this was an issue or that had caused illness in their family and their parents. I mean, I think that that’s the thought I had. Like, what’s the demographic breakdown of this? Just because I mean, I went to private school too I don’t remember any white kids come to school with baby powder. I’m just gonna say that. 

Sam [00:33:47] I’m just still taken aback by the scale of this. Like baby powder, just the smell of it. Like the product, the bottle. Like everybody knows it. Right? It is ubiquitous. Everybody’s seen it. Everybody knows what we’re talking about. And that’s just in the U.S. like globally, I imagine this is something that is just being used at just a huge scale and then to find out that it is causing so much harm and then only to pull it back in North America, but not anywhere else. First of all, as you said, DeRay, is is wild.  And I don’t know if they’ve explained that decision making or if there’s something that can be done in the courts to prevent them from continuing to sell this elsewhere. But that itself is just continue to expose people to the threat and to the harm. And then I also think about all the people who may have never heard this. Right, who may not listen to the pod, who may not have read that article. This is the first time I was hearing about it. You know, this will continue to cause harm until, you know, the company ultimately just stop selling it entirely, until they actually make amends for what they’ve done, not only to sort of the group of people that are already going to receive some sort of settlement, but to the broader universe of people who have been exposed to harm because of this product, both in the U.S. and abroad. And it’s just like a colossal, monumental failure that is just like the scale of this is mind boggling. So the remedy has to also be at the scale of the problem. 

Kaya [00:35:16] So I have three reactions to this. The first one is that Johnson and Johnson is actually like working on a coronavirus vaccine. 

Kaya [00:35:24] So you know, I don’t know how to feel about that one. 

Kaya [00:35:31] Right? Second of all. I think about not just the babies who are on whom Johnson and Johnson baby powder  was used on, but from a hygiene perspective as De’Ara shared, Imean, I know many women we grew up putting baby powder in our underwear during the summertime to keep from perspiring. Right.? So even if you were exposed to that as a child, many women, grown women still continue to use baby powder in that area. And I wonder even if the news has spread so that people stop using it. And then the third thing that I was thinking is also this week, Bayer was hit with a 10 billion dollar, they have to pay 10 billion dollars because Roundup, the weed killer, causes cancer. And they’ve known that for a long time. I’ve also seen stuff about how the Impossible Meat potentially causes cancer. And is all of this stuff out there that is not being released, but they have been back and forth with the FDA and whatnot. And these companies actually know that there are issues and they still ignore or, you know, obscure or work through the holes and put these products out to us. I don’t understand how, like how the FDA isn’t more active in stopping these things from hitting the shelves and continuing to be sold. I mean, the most galling thing in our whole article, it’s that they are going to stop selling in North America, but the rest of the world talc cancer for you and talc cancer for you and talc cancer for you as long as you don’t live in North America. We’ve got to do better. Be better. Figure out how to stop this. 

DeRay [00:37:17] I will say to you, you know, I don’t know if you all saw, but somebody famous was like, we should give it that coronavirus vaccine to Black people first, did ya’ll see that. 

DeRay [00:37:25] And it’s like maybe not. Maybe, maybe, maybe we shouldn’t experiment on the Black people first. Right.?

Kaya [00:37:30] So what I did see was that Black I saw an article is a Black people are not participating in clinical trials. And so the vaccine might not actually work on us because they don’t have enough Black, you know, subjects to test on. 

DeRay [00:37:45] The last thing I say is I actually have a friend who had Covid went to go participate in the trials, but he can’t donate blood because he’s gay, like they’re still not accepting blood from gay donors. And he got Covid before I got Covid. So he got the antibodies really quickly. And then he went in and he was pumped and they realized he was gay and they were like, I’m really sorry.” That is also a reminder, especially when we think about pride is a way that homophobia still informs so many of the medical practices that people have. And we just like sort of wrap it up into saying that this is how it has to be to keep people safe, even though that is not true. 

DeRay [00:38:21] Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save The People is coming. 

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DeRay [00:41:01] And we’re also joined by Johnetta Elzie, one of the first people that I met in the street in St. Louis. We spent every night, 400 days out on the street together in Ferguson and the St. Louis region. And we’ve been close ever since. 

DeRay [00:41:13] I wanted her to come help us as we are in this current moment and think about the protests and race and justice and policing and help build our knowledge as we go into what’s next. Let’s go. 

DeRay [00:41:25] Johnetta, how you doing? 

Johnetta [00:41:26] You know, I’m a bit tired this week. I’m exhausted, actually. I’m overwhelmed with my own health concerns and the news cycle itself. 

Johnetta [00:41:36] I’ve been thrown back into the work and that means sticking to my commitment to myself to stay healthy and whole first. 

Johnetta [00:41:43] And what is the work, like many others right now, doing in quarantine, the work is being attached to laptops at all times during the day and protesting in the evening. 

Johnetta [00:41:53] Again, the work is coming back to D.C. and reconnecting with organizers who actually came to Ferguson to answer our call for more bodies in the streets six years ago. The work is virtual panel, sharing ideas and methods on how to accomplish black liberation. What worked and what has not worked, and being a community with people I may not have ever gotten to meet otherwise. The work is reading the thoughts and words of those who have already walked this path. I’ve been reading Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire Prisons and Torture by Angela Davis and The End of Policing by Professor Alex Vitale, this week.  Definitely highly recommend.  Work is finding out about an action and deciding to go check it out. So just yesterday we joined a friend, Professor Sherry Williams, at a political education gathering in Lincoln Park here in D.C. Organized by some great youth organizers over at the Freedom Neighborhood, 19 years old, and educating us in the park on a Sunday on systemic racism. 

DeRay [00:42:58] What should we be paying attention to? You know, the protests continue. This conversation continues. What should we be paying attention to? 

Johnetta [00:43:05] A few things that have been happening with Breonna Taylor’s case. 

DeRay [00:43:09] What has happened in the past, like what’s the update? 

Johnetta [00:43:12] I’ve attempted to keep over this now quickly moving timeline for her case. Breonna was killed in her home on March 13th of this year. And Breonna was no ones suspect. Breonna was an EMT. Her work was literally saving lives. And the police in Louisville took hers with no regard as they shot over 25 shots into her home after forcefully entering her apartment unannounced and with bad information. It is difficult to talk about, Breonna, because she reminds me so much of Black women we’ve been introduced to via hashtag.  Black women like Tatiana Jefferson, who was killed in her home in Fort Worth, Texas, while playing video games with her nephew. I play video games. Anybody who knows me knows that I love to distress sometimes with a good game. Mortal Kombat,  and Tatiana Jefferson’s, Jefferson’s death reminded me that any moment my place of peace could be interrupted. 

DeRay [00:44:09] It is also, you think about no-knock warrants and no-knock raids, they were birthed out of the war on drugs. We shouldn’t be knocking on people’s doors for much of anything, but certainly not not drugs. 

Johnetta [00:44:22] It reaffirmed what I already knew, that even in our own homes, Black folks are not safe from police or police violence. Breonna’s murder started with a faulty no-knock warrant and TatianaJefferson’s murder came from a concerned neighbor, specifically calling the non-emergency number about an open door at Jefferson’s home and even with the care of the neighbor called the non-emergency number, Tatiana was still shot and killed through that door. DeRay can you explain the purpose of a non-emergency number in a perfect situation? 

DeRay [00:44:53] Yes the whole point of non-emergency, 311 numbers is you know Baltimore is actually one of the first cities to have a non-emergency number was that people were calling out for like trash pickup and all this other stuff. Right?  That had nothing to do with anything emergency. So the idea is that, like, it’s supposed to be a support hotline. So if you are experiencing homelessness or if you need resources, right? Like anything, you might be a resource for this not like an intervention in the moment, can this resource line help you? It is really sad that that a non-emergency number led to this outcome because the whole purpose was that it wouldn’t do this. 

Johnetta [00:45:27] Breonna also reminds me of who Aiyana Stanley Jones could have been if she were allowed to grow up. For those who don’t remember Aiyana was eight years old when she was murdered by the police in Detroit. I also think about Rekia Boid, who is murdered by an off duty Chicago detective Dante Servin while walking with her friends. As an introvert, being home or walking with a small group of friends are the things that I do.  To have constant reminders that those regular activities can be violently interrupted at any moment. There’s a constant source of tension and trauma.  At this moment, there are protests in major cities across America. In Colorado Springs, thousands of people are outside, shutting down the city, calling for justice in the death of 23 year old Elijah McClain. I just learned about Elijah’s death a few weeks ago. But he was killed in August 2019. When did you first hear about his death? 

DeRay [00:46:23] Literally on Twitter. On Instagram, actually. I saw somebody posted his picture and his name and I was like, wow, did I miss like, I missed it? And then, you know, I kept reading. I was like, wow. 

Johnetta [00:46:34] Protesters in St. Louis are back in the streets after the mayor of St. Louis, Lyda Krewson, doxed protesters on her Facebook Live. Reading both names and addresses of protesters who communicated to her by letter their thoughts on defunding the police in St. Louis city and where those funds could actually go. The following day, there was a scheduled KKK rally on Art Hill in St. Louis. And from our point of view, Mayor Lyda Crewson put a target on these individuals backs for potential harm. Protesters in Louisville, Kentucky, are consistently holding it down for Breonna. Spoke to my friend Chad to check in with him on how he was doing and how folks on the ground are doing. Chad and I met in Ferguson in 2014 when him and another friend came up for Ferguson October. It was a call that we gave for more bodies to come to St. Louis so we can disrupt and bring attention to multiple police murders. At that time, only now a police killing has happened in his hometown, too. And this is not 2014. Calling for more people on the ground cannot be answered, exactly, because we are still in the middle of a pandemic which is exasperated by a crisis of leadership in cities and states where social distancing measures are ongoing and, or disregarded to begin with. What 2014 did show us is that connectivity is key in liberation movements.  The same as every uprising, slave revolt or other forms of black resistance. The ability to continue using technology in ways to help all of us bear witness to what is happening in the streets of this country during protest is a gift during this time.  Folks stood as witnesses with us during those early days of Ferguson through live streams. Shout out to Heather and Tony, by following us online and by reading and sharing the newsletter that we put out daily. 

DeRay [00:48:31] Now, what’s your advice to people who are still trying to make sense of this moment? Whose hope might be challenged in this moment? What do you say to them? 

Johnetta [00:48:39] The fight for justice and equity takes a lifetime commitment. It can be big or small. The fight must continue when the [00:48:46]wounds [0.0s] are sexy and dominate the headlines. And when the work is grueling and nobody is watching.  And I’m going to end this week with just two reminders, be kind to yourself and do what you need to do to recharge and find joy. I can’t tell you all enough how important it is to take care of you. And then remember that it’s OK to step up and step back. Something we used as an organizing strategy in St. Louis often.  Because the movement is moving forward and more people are joining us every day. This is a constant fight. But, we have our comrades in this work to hold space for us when we need to go off and rest. So rest if you can, even if that means just taking a nap. And with that, I will see you all next week. Thanks for having me. 

DeRay [00:49:34] Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save The People. Don’t go anywhere. There’s more to come. So me and Kaya are both pumped to talk about this new book that came out that is by somebody we both respect and consider friend, Wes Moore. It is called Five Days: The Fiery Reckoning of an American City. And it’s on sale now. 

Kaya [00:49:50] From New York Times, best selling author of The Other Wes Moore. A kaleidoscopic account of five days in the life of a city on the edge, told through eight characters on the front lines of the uprising that overtook Baltimore and riveted the world. 

DeRay [00:50:06] Where Freddie Gray was arrested for possessing an “illegal knife.” 

DeRay [00:50:09] In April 2015, he was, by eyewitness accounts, that video evidence later confirmed, treated “roughly” quote, as police loaded him into a vehicle. That rough ride is now something that changed so much of the country.  By the end of his trip in the police van. Freddie Gray was in a coma from which he would never recover. 

Kaya [00:50:26] In the wake of a long history of police abuse in Baltimore, this killing felt like the final straw. It led to a week of protests, then five days described alternately as a riot or an uprising that set the entire city on edge and caught the nation’s attention. 

Kaya [00:50:43] Wes Moore is a Rhodes Scholar, best selling author, decorated combat veteran, former White House fellow and CEO of Robinhood, one of the largest anti-poverty nonprofits in the nation. While attending Freddie Gray’s funeral, he saw a whole city come together. Grieving mothers, members of the city’s elite, activists, politicians.  Citizens who had endured so much of the ills of poverty and drug addiction and who had been left out to dry by so much of the city’s infrastructure. All looking to come from one another, but also looking for answers. He knew that when they left the church, those factions would likely spread out back into their own spaces. But at the answers they were all looking for could be found only in the city as a whole. 

Kaya [00:51:23] Each shifting point of view contributes to an engrossing account of one of the most consequential moments in our recent history, which is also essential to understanding the deeper causes of the violence and the small seeds of hope planted in its aftermath. 

Kaya [00:51:39] My boy Wes Moore’s book, Five Days. 

DeRay [00:51:44] A small town, a brutal murder, witness docs from Stitcher presents a journey into the heart of America’s unfinished business. Listen to Unfinished: Deep South, a new podcast, that races to resolve the unfinished business of a small Arkansas town by starting with one question: Who lynched Izidor Banks? 

Kaya [00:52:01] Sixty six years after the murder of a wealthy African-American farmer and World War One veteran who found a way to prosper in the Jim Crow South, this investigative true crime series attempts to restore his legacy and solve the crime, before the story goes cold forever. 

DeRay [00:52:19] By illuminating one man’s life,

DeRay [00:52:20] This story explores a system of white supremacy that surrounded Banks, traced and forgotten court records, fading FBI files and testimony of elderly witnesses. Listen and subscribe to the show on, Stitcher, Apple podcast, Spotify, or wherever you listen. 

DeRay [00:52:36] And now my conversation with Soledad O’Brien, who you probably know, who I have learned so much from over the years. Today, we’re sitting down to discuss the current situation in journalism, along with her new podcasts, Murder on the Towpath. Let’s go. 

DeRay [00:52:50] Soledad, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save The People. 

Soledad O’Brien [00:52:53] Hey, It’s nice to be here. How are you? 

DeRay [00:52:55] I’m good. What? You know, I have so many questions for you. We’ve been in the same room many times before, but haven’t really had a long conversation. I’d love to know what is it like to cover the news right now where it feels like there is just so much going on? Like what does that even mean for somebody like you whose career, you know? I remember watching you teach me about what was happening day to day, but it didn’t feel like this much was happening like it is now. 

Soledad O’Brien [00:53:21] You know, in 2005, I think when Hurricane Katrina happened, that was the year that was crazy. The pope died, I mean, I just remember back to back to back to back like events happening. But I think what makes this go round feeling a little bit more chaotic is kind of all the other external things that are happening but that don’t seem to move on. Right? So we’re all sheltering in place more or less, we have the coronavirus. So we have protests in the streets. And then you also have sort of the crazy daily news cycle. But most of it is political. And then every so often got some crazy, hornet that’s going to eat us all. And then the earthquake here or there. So it feels a little bit different because I think this idea that everybody home and everybody is already stressed and the protests have really ratcheted things up, I think for anybody who’s going into an office, every single office is trying to figure out what’s their point of view, what’s their take, what’s their mission statement, what’s their value statement, you know, how are they thinking about that? We’ve got states that are open and then thinking about closing town again because, of course, people are looking at a maybe a second wave coming or some really hadn’t hit the first wave, but they didn’t do a good job preparing for the first wave. So just feels very chaotic. And so I’ve been in sort of chaotic news cycles before, but this kind of takes the cake, I would say. And I think for me, you know, some things are constant. Coronavirus right now is a constant. Protests are a constant. And so I just try to ferret out the stories and the threads that I want to follow and try not to be completely overwhelmed by the giant pipe of information and stuff that spews toward us every day. 

DeRay [00:54:59] Got it. That makes sense. And how have you seen social media change the news? You know, I think about again, I think about when I was much younger and I saw you teaching me about what was happening on TV, like I wasn’t on Twitter then and I wasn’t really on Facebook, not for news. I was sort of on Facebook just to post pictures. You know, sometimes I think about what does it mean to win the Twitter war and sort of and not win the real world.  Or how Twitter seems to be so important to the news cycle, even if it’s not always resonating with people who are not on the platform. But I’d love to know what you how do you think about the role of Twitter and social media and sort of shaping news? 

Soledad O’Brien [00:55:34] I think Twitter and social media generally shape news a lot because a lot of journalists are on Twitter. Right? The goal is to figure out kind of where the conversation is going. And so there’s much of a cesspool as it can be. It’s a really good place to sort of get a sense of here’s something that’s resonating here, something people are talking about. Here’s a community where they’re talking about a thing. Here’s something that people are talking about that actually happened on Instagram or on Tic-Tok but they’re talking about it on Twitter. So I think for all those reasons, Twitter has become kind of where the forward conversations are going. And people are talking about them. But at the same time, I think social media also forces journalists and reporters generally to try to get clicks. Right? They try to figure out how do you pluck the sexiest thing out? And in a lot of ways, I think journalists feel like they’re competing with social media. They use it as a platform. Me, too. If I have a piece that I like or I want people to see, I’ll post it or I’ll start a conversation, hey, I’ve got a podcast.  Check it out. But I think it also, in a lot of ways, competes for eyeballs with reporters. And so I find that a lot of traditional reporters, we’ll use The New York Times, as an example, tend to have tweets that gosh I certainly would tell them that they’re a bad idea. The younger reporters actually do a pretty good job of providing context because they their social media natives and a lot of ways. But I think the older reporters just are very clunky in their use. For example, they’ll just quote something that’s factually untrue, but they elevated on their own platform because they’ve quoted it and it makes it seem like it’s true. So I you know, I think it’s a great platform for a conversation and for figuring out where the conversation is going to go. But at the same time, as you point out, it’s not real life. I mean, a lot of reporting is actually getting in a car, driving somewhere, pulling into a neighborhood and trying to figure out what the story is. And then, you know, certainly people in TV news shooting that story and talking to people and figuring out what they’re really talking about. And not just following the wave of conversation happening on Twitter. 

DeRay [00:57:35] And what do you think is the future of mainstream media? You know, I have seen your critiques of the CNNs and The New York Times. Do you think that they will last in the way that they exist now? Do you think that they will improve and get better? Do you think that something new will emerge that we haven’t even thought of yet? 

Soledad O’Brien [00:57:51] I think those are two different questions, actually, and not necessarily related. Right. Like, you can last just fine and be extremely shitty and, you know, and so doing better and lasting, I think are really I mean, I wish I were not being serious. But I mean, there are plenty of shows that we know that went into season fifteen or something like, wow, that’s not a very good show. But here it is with staying power. 

Soledad O’Brien [00:58:13] And I think, you know, The New York Times, often will point to digital subscriptions, which are way up, and they’ve done very well on that front. So in the news business, figuring out how to be profitable, how to get subscribers, how to make money is the game. You can be a wonderful news organization and be going out of business and firing all your reporters because you can’t figure out how to be financially viable. So how to be better is a bit of a different conversation. And I think that’s a leadership conversation. Right? That’s what do you want to be? And I think especially under the Trump administration, many reporters are trying to figure it out. They just don’t necessarily know how to navigate. What does it mean to hold people accountable, especially if some of those people are, you know, are your sources and you need them.  You know, how do you think about reporting on people or getting access, especially if you’ve got a book coming out? How do you think about, you know, explaining issues when it is much more complicated than is going to fit, you know, in a tweet? You know, what’s the tone? What’s important to cover? You know, all those things I think a lot of reporters are learning. And I think you really see sadly, it breaks my heart with a tremendous lack of diversity in journalism generally. You really, really see that reflected because the lone frequently Black or Hispanic or Native American or Asian journalists are often kind of out there waving a flag like, hey, this is an important point or this is an important question. I remember once watching Chris Cillizza reading him, I guess he’s more on, you know, writing for CNN.com. And just his tone was so jokey. And you’re like, well, there’s all these DOCA students who literally feel like their lives are hanging in the balance. And the tone of what he’s writing is so utterly unbothered and doesn’t care one way or the other. Like, literally was writing jokes about, you know, reality TV president. And I just want to thinking if he were a person of color, this tone would not exist because it just doesn’t work like that. You know, I think for people of color covering this administration and all that’s happened over the last few years and administrations before that. Right? Some of the shit is extremely serious. And you have to be a very privileged and maybe not very talented person, but probably a white dude to be able to sort of think that some of these things are funny. And that’s a tone that I’ve noticed a lot. I mean, it’s changing a bit as we head into an election. But I just remember thinking, like, wow, I can see where some of these questions just go unanswered because you have a very white media and they don’t necessarily have, you know, the idea that people are just absolutely struggling with using the words racist or, you know, using words and said, like, racially tinged, you know, that that just wouldn’t really happen for I think If you had a lot of black journalists saying that, you know, that’s ridiculous. 

DeRay [01:01:06] No, you’re right. Do you think, you know, there’s been so much conversation that, you know, I think about what I’ve lived through, like I lived through the protests six years ago, we’re back in the streets again. And I think about all the promises that were made in 2014 and not followed through on and not that that’s made me jaded, but it has made me much more mindful of the way people sort of will posture. 

Soledad O’Brien [01:01:26] Like what promises? 

DeRay [01:01:28] You know, people said all times that, you know, we’re going to change the racial demographics of this company and we’re going to have a commitment to hiring Black. And we are going to do this to the police. And like they didn’t do it. You know, like once the protest ended, they went back to be in the same old companies that they were. You know. 

Soledad O’Brien [01:01:43] Yeah. 

DeRay [01:01:44] And I say that because I’m interested. What do you think that maybe you disagree with that? Do you think that this moment will be different? Like, there’ve been so many companies this time or so many organizations that are like we may we’re making a commitment. And do you think that, oh, how can we make it stick? 

Soledad O’Brien [01:01:59] Yeah, I do. Actually, it feels a little bit different to me. I never thought the first go round in 2014 that there was a real sense of commitment. I have to say, partly because I think a lot of organizations that I’ve been around a few minutes longer than you like, a lot longer. 

Soledad O’Brien [01:02:15] So I’ve been through a couple of more waves of this, you know, and people talked about their commitment. And this and that. And until you have two things, one, people actually talking specifically about what they’re going to do, a strategy. And, you know, honestly, if we were talking about how we were going to get our refrigerators into market. Right? You wouldn’t say, well, that’s a really good, enthusiastic little note you wrote, Soledad. But but tell me, how are we getting our refrigerators into market? Our mission statement wouldn’t be good enough being enthusiastic and embracing of diversity. We’d all be like, yeah, that’s it. But how am I getting the refrigerators in the market? The number one you need to have, I think, a real strategy. And I actually am hearing many more conversations about strategy.  And then number two, you need to have a critical mass, usually people of color within the company who are pushing for it. Right? Who are saying this is not enough, we need to go further and helping some of their CEOs, I mean, I’m thinking of all the ones that I just know personally, where they are driving the conversation. So, for example, I won’t name companies, but there’s been a handful where, you know, someone will say to me, could you come in and talk about diversity and the Black people are like, No, actually come in and talk about Black people. Like, we’re going to stop you there. Do not-here’s what we want to talk about. This is not a diversity conversation. This is a criminal justice conversation. This is a black people conversation. This is a Black Lives Matter conversation. This is a-that’s very rare or that’s a change where people start demanding more from the inside. And I think companies respect and understand that in their employees and also want to make sure that they’re keeping those employees. And so I’ve seen a big shift. Now, is it going to be a massive shift? I don’t know. I really don’t. But I’ve certainly seen a big difference in 2014 and anytime before that. 

DeRay [01:04:04] Now, let’s talk about what is new with you. You have a new podcast. And can you talk about why a podcast? What do you hope to the podcast accomplishes? Yeah, why a podcast? Why this moment? 

Soledad O’Brien [01:04:17] I do like podcasts, listening to them. 

Soledad O’Brien [01:04:20] But I never thought of one that I wanted to do, like, oh, that’s fun to listen to, but it wouldn’t be for me. And then I was approached by some producers about a murder story. And I’d like true crime. But I don’t like a lot of the true crime that’s like recreation’s and crazy. It had all the pieces of what I was interested. It had a lot of history, had a lot about civil rights. It had a White woman at the center who was sort of a socialite who was murdered, very Pinchot Meyer, who was a friend of the Kennedy used to walk with Jackie Kennedy. And when she was killed on the towpath, it’s called murder on the Towpath. Within forty five minutes, they arrest a Black guy. Youngest Black guy. But I love the woman who comes in to represent the Black young man is a civil rights attorney named Dovey Roundtree. And it was very interesting as a platform to be able to kind of use the episode to go back. You couldn’t really do it in documentaries, right? Documentaries. You don’t say here’s a character. But wait, let me take you back 25 years. Very rarely happens. But in podcasts, you do it all the time. Every episode you get to kind of do a deep dove into something interesting. So I love being able to talk about the civil rights attorney. 

Soledad O’Brien [01:05:36] One of my favorite little details from this podcast is Dovey is up against this prosecutor who’s very famous and very powerful, and she’s representing this young Black man. And a lot of the evidence seems to not be going their way. But the prosecutor gets a little too cocky. And in the elevator, he talks about his case and his strategy with his colleagues, sort of looking at the Black woman who’s running the elevator. This is in 1964, as if she thought it doesn’t matter. It reminds me almost it’s very analogous to people who say things in front of nanny’s right like that. They’re not a real person. They don’t. You know what? If I speak in front of them and say something, it won’t matter. And so, of course, this black elevator operator turns around and goes to Dovey Roundtree, the civil rights attorney, and fills her in on prosecution strategy, which in turn helps Dovey strategize her case, and she goes on to win her case. 

Soledad O’Brien [01:06:28] But the dive into the case and the evidence and all of that was so fascinating. But then it turns out that Mary Pancho Meyer was having an affair with JFK and was doing drugs in the White House with JFK, which anyway it is not even a conspiracy. 

Soledad O’Brien [01:06:45] It opens a whole window into conspiracy theories. And Mary Pinchot Meyer, when she died the next day, the CIA ran in to grab her diary, which again, that’s not a conspiracy theory that actually happened. So it just seemed like there were so many interesting and weird twists and turns. And I thought it was fascinating. And I thought I don’t really do a lot of reporting on conspiracy theories, but I find them interesting. So I like being able to dove into them and kind of explain to people like why this exists. Where does it come from? Versus going whole hog into a conspiracy theory. And I like doing a story on, you know, two powerful women in the 1960s who, in spite of everything kind of, you know, society, sort of tried to thwart them at every turn. And how they in some cases managed to get ahead and in others you could not. So just fascinating on a lot of different levels. And I don’t know that there’s another medium that I could tell that story as well and have it make sense. 

DeRay [01:07:44] How did you find out that they, like, stole her diary? I’m like, fascinated? Do we know where the diary is or is it gone? 

Soledad O’Brien [01:07:49] Bill Bradley, right?  The publisher of The Washington Post in the mid 90s, writes about it in his memoir. He doesn’t bother to report it. That’s what he writes about it, because he’s the brother in law. He’s a brother in law. He’s married to Mary Pinchot Meyer’s sister. And so when he’s doing his media tour, he starts telling the stories about how the CIA showed up to grab her diary. Never reported on it, interestingly. And so it’s so crazy. I’ve done interviews now with historians and I’m like, how come I never heard of them when I was in high school like, did I miss some big chunk of history? It’s fascinating. It’s a really, really fascinating case. A lot of it’s been taken over by conspiracy theory, like if you to Google it, you sort of see a lot of crazy conspiracy theories. So we really wanted to dismantle and understand a bunch of them. But truly, I had never heard of it. Producers came to me and they said they thought it would be a good fit and I’ve loved it. It’s been really fun to do. But, of course, you know, we did the first couple episodes at a studio. But then I’ve been taping it at home. And my ability with technology, you know, that would take me about 10 seconds that fill you in on that. So I’m not good. And it’s been very stressful to have to figure it out myself or to do take long, long episodes and then realize, oh, shit, I forgot to hit record, which they tell me I guess is a thing that happens. 

Soledad O’Brien [01:09:12] I was devastated. 

DeRay [01:09:14] Do you think you know who killed her? 

Soledad O’Brien [01:09:16] I don’t know. And I think it’s an open question. You know, you can look at Ray Crump Junior, who is the man who’s charged with her killing. And there’s so many dropped threads. I mean, the prosecution really was overly confident and did a pretty poor job in a lot of ways. But then who else could it be if you believe the conspiracy theories, they believe that Mary Pinchot Meyers was killed intentionally by the CIA along with JFK. I mean, I think that’s crazy and out there. And most reporters do, too. But then you have the fact that, you know, the first thing that happens is the CIA shows up to grab her diary. That’s bizarre. So there’s so much of this whole story that’s very bizarre. But also the history of both women was so interesting because I don’t think we do a lot about women of a certain age, if you will. You know, who in the 1960s are trying to figure out their power when society kind of tells them they don’t have a lot. So it was fascinating, it at every turn. And then Ray Crumps, you know, who goes to trial and eventually is not convicted of the crime. But his trial is amazing. He goes on to have an interesting life, but we dig into that and what that could tell us about who killed Mary Pincham Maya. 

DeRay [01:10:28] Well, there you go. That is. Do you. Do you think that this is the beginning for you of like a new and new wing of your career that’s going to be finding stories like this and sort of bringing them to life again? 

Soledad O’Brien [01:10:40] Definitely. What I’ve actually thought about is we have a couple of docs that we’re working like multi-part series docs, and there is a piece of it that is so interesting for a podcast that I’d like to do.  Like, one of the reasons I wanted to do a podcast is, you know, I wanted to walk through it to figure it out. I thought, oh, this, here is how I would work a podcast into this doc project that I’m doing and how you could really use them, because there’s so many conversations. Right. What’s interesting in a podcast is you take one little tiny thread and you just dig into that thread forever. And, you know, for as long as you want to go. So, yeah, I absolutely would do it again because I find it just fascinating. Again, in the right topic. We had I’d had other people reach out to me about topics and you have to be fascinated by it. I think it’s really hard to do a podcast if you’re just a generalist on something and you’re not willing to go down the rabbit hole. 

DeRay [01:11:34] Yeah, I agree. And what was what was the thing about this is sold you in the pitch. 

Soledad O’Brien [01:11:39] You know, what started to sell me was this idea of a civil rights attorney. When I heard that, I was like, oh, I see why they came to me, they were interested in someone who’s done a lot of women in the civil rights era. That was great. But then they were like. And then we’re going to get into around episode six about Mary and JFK doing drugs in the White House and I was like wait, what?  And and then we’re gonna have to deconstruct all the conspiracy theories around how she died and then we’re gonna get into the backstory on the women. So I think that was the part to me that felt like, again, I love a podcast where you go down the rabbit hole, but in a thoughtful and interesting way. It’s when you’re driving and you’re listening to it, it kind of just takes you. Like, I don’t know that I could do that in a documentary. I think you’d lose everybody. 

DeRay [01:12:24] Right. Right. Right, right. No, I think that is that’s real. Let’s shift, let zoom out again  and go back to sort of the national landscape. I’d love to know your prognosis about November. Do you think that Trump could still win? Do you think that, you know, he’s clearly in a decline? Do you think Biden what’s your what’s your what? 

Soledad O’Brien [01:12:42] Listen, I think Trump has a very large number of very vocal supporters. And no matter what he does, he is going to have the support of those people. That number looks like it hovers around 39 percent, 41 percent, maybe 43, 44 percent. But then you also have just what happens, what happens in the world that sways people. And, you know, I don’t know that he has the Constitution, if you will, for handling a crisis well in any way, shape or form. So I don’t know that he always can say something comes across the transom and and he rises to the challenge, because I think that actually would help someone as they are trying to become president. So I don’t know. But listen, I think racism and I said this back in 2015, you know racism in America sells very, very, very big. And you just can get a lot of people and encourage a lot of people. I think the silence from a number of President Trump’s Republican colleagues has been very disappointing. You know, I think Mitt Romney says Black Lives Matter. And it’s like, oh, my whole hallelujah. I’m like good for him. I mean, I’m glad that he did a good for him. He’s got a Black grandson. I’m glad that these are things that he thinks about. I think it’s an interesting time. And I don’t know is very long and wordy way of saying I just don’t know. But racism is very powerful and racism sells. And we see it every single day. Americans really, really like to figure out how they can best and be above somebody else. And I think in America, racism is a really good strategy for that. And politicians today know that. They’ve known that for a while. But today, I think what Trump brought to the Republican Party is just a very overt version of that. I remember when people have asked in the past John McCain to say he’d be you know, he’d was horrified, like, no, we’re not going to say that. And others have said, you know, that’s a bridge too far. But Trump said, no, it’s not a bridge too far. I literally can say bigoted things. And where the media, I think, has really failed the political media is to not call it out. He can lie and he can say things that are literally racist and bigoted. And everyone’s like, well, I mean, there are things that sound like a bigoted thing, someone might say, you know, and they just are really challenged. So that part’s been very disappointing to me. But I would never count out someone who’s willing to dive deep into racism in order to flog his audience that connects with him. I have no idea what’s going to happen there. 

DeRay [01:15:02] Two questions I ask everybody. The first is, what’s a piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years has stuck with you? 

Soledad O’Brien [01:15:08] I think probably the main one was what my mom said many years ago. And I didn’t understand it because I grew up in an all white neighborhood. My mom used to say, don’t let anybody tell you you’re not Black and don’t let anybody tell you you’re not Latina. And I’m like, who’s the they like. 

Soledad O’Brien [01:15:22] What do you think? 

Soledad O’Brien [01:15:24] Here is this brown family in an all white,  but trust me, no one was saying that, like people were saying, a lot of other things. I thought she was, I literally thought she was insane. Well, when I started doing The Black in America documentary series for CNN,  in about two thousand seven or eight, I began to understand, like everybody wants to weigh in on identity, not their own. Only yours and mine. And so I remember that kind of came back to me like, you know, you don’t have to prove yourself to anybody about anything. Go do your work. Put your head down. Don’t let anybody tell you who you are. You know exactly who you are. And that was very helpful, I think, especially as a bi racial woman, my parents are very clear about my race and my identity. And sometimes I meet young people who are mixed race and I see them really struggling because I think their parents had done something like you can be anything you want and you don’t know what I was like. I found my mom’s way much more helpful. And as I got older, I really began to understand what her strategy was. So I think that was the first thing. That was a very, very helpful thing for someone to say. 

DeRay [01:16:28] Boom.  And the second is, what do you say to people who are losing hope in moments like this, people who have done everything they were supposed to. They voted they email, they call, they protested. And the world hasn’t changed in the way they wanted it to, what you say to those people?

Soledad O’Brien [01:16:39] Well, you know, I mean, I think Dr. King had a lot to say about that. It’s not necessarily fair and it doesn’t work like, look, I gave a good push and, you know, it hasn’t time. It doesn’t look like that. It’s about fighting court constantly. Right? I would say then figure out what you are interested in and then you have to commit to fighting for it. I don’t wake up in the morning, say, listen, I’ve done a really good job and my kids, I guess I get to stop parenting. But every day you get out there and you keep it going and you say, you know, someday go well and the other day don’t go well. But if you have a vision and a plan and a hope and a dream, then you stick to it and you make sure that it matters to you and that other people understand that it matters. I think sometimes in America, we think like, well, we solve that. And you realize there are forces that are always trying to roll people’s rights. Who would have thought and we’re having conversations about contraception in 2020. But here we are. So, you know, like, OK. Then people who are interested in making sure that they have certain rights and opportunities need to be vocal. And the good news is, you know, we don’t wait for the pastors at your church to get everybody together in the church hall to do a march. Real people exist on social media to get together and have conversations and learn. So I’m very hopeful. I’m incredibly optimistic person, but also a realist. I know when things are bad, but I’m also very optimistic because I see more and more people looking at these videos of young black men, you know, being either shot by the police or arrested unjustly. And I’m like, it’s terrible to watch. People need to see. This is brutal to watch. But how else do people understand someone’s lived experience that is not their own? So there we are. That makes me optimistic because more people are looking at them and then things happen. Things change. 

DeRay [01:18:25] Boom.  Thanks so much. And we can’t wait to have you back. We consider you a friend of the pod. And I can’t wait to find out who killed her because I didn’t even know this story was a story.  Untill you. 

Soledad O’Brien [01:18:34] Who knew? Who knew? Yeah. Thank you. And I’d love to come back. And yes, it’s nice to have a conversation. We as you said, we’ve been in a million rooms together, but not really in a conversation. So it’s great to have a conversation with you. 

DeRay [01:18:51] Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning in to Pod Save The People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure to rate it wherever you get your podcasts whether it’s Apple podcasts or somewhere else. We’ll see you next week.