In This Episode
- President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Atlanta, Georgia yesterday to make a stand for voting rights. Absent from the audience to Biden’s speech were several Georgia voting rights groups that refused to attend. Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown joins us to discuss why activists like her sat this one out and what they’re concerned about ahead of this year’s midterm elections.
- And in headlines: Russia will begin withdrawing its troops from Kazakhstan this week, Chicago students and teachers are back in school after a long standoff between the city and the Chicago Teachers Union, and writer Maya Angelou is set to become the first Black woman to be depicted on the U.S. quarter.
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Gideon Resnick: It’s Wednesday, January 12th. I’m Gideon Resnick.
Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day, where we’re searching for a cure to our intrusive thoughts about the New York Times COVID curve.
Gideon Resnick: Yes, obviously let’s deal with the curve itself first. But if there is a treatment for thoughts about said curve, that would be helpful too. To be clear, I’m looking for the fastest shortcut.
Josie Duffy Rice: Absolutely.
Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, Chicago students will head back to school today. Plus, Amazon workers in Alabama can officially redo their union vote starting early next month.
Josie Duffy Rice: But first, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to my city, Atlanta, Georgia, yesterday to make a stand for voting rights and to push Congress to pass two pieces of legislation meant to combat ever-mounting Republican-led efforts to restrict voting access. In his speech delivered after he visited the crypt of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President Biden said this:
[clip of President Biden] The United States Supreme Court in recent years has weakened the Voting Rights Act, and now the defeated former president and his supporters used a big lie about the 2020 election to fuel torment and anti-voting laws, new laws designed to suppress your vote to subvert our elections.
Josie Duffy Rice: Those two congressional bills to protect voting rights have been stuck for months because nearly all but one—and only sometimes one, sometimes zero—Senate Republicans have been against them. Plus, the White House prioritized passing the infrastructure and the social spending packages.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And to recap those two bills, there’s the Freedom to Vote Act, which, among other things, would establish a national rule for vote by mail and early voting. Then there’s also the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore preclearance components of the Voting Rights Act that had been taken away by the Supreme Court in 2013, as Biden alluded to. To bypass a GOP blockade of those bills, President Biden called for a temporary carve out to change the filibuster for just this issue. Here he is again:
[clip of President Biden] I believe the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills. Debate them, vote, let the majority prevail. And if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so that would allow voting rights bills to pass with a simple majority composed of Democrats in the 50-50 Senate, with Harris to break that tie. Though those changes would also require all 50 Democrats to be on board, and already Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have resisted those changes. Biden, without invoking any names, asked this of senators who are against getting these bills passed:
[clip of President Biden] Do you want to be the side, on the side of Dr. King, or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis? This is the moment to decide to defend our elections, to defend our democracy.
Josie Duffy Rice: As we reported on the show, absent from the audience to Biden’s speech on voting rights were several voting rights groups. A coalition of Georgia organizations and activists, including the Black Voters Matter Fund and the Asian-American Advocacy Fund, sat out his visit, and we wanted to learn more about their concerns ahead of this year’s midterm elections. So we have with us LaTosha Brown. She is an absolute legend in Georgia, and also the co-founder of Black Voters Matter. Thank you so much for being here and welcome to What A Day.
LaTosha Brown: Oh! Legend—you make me feel so old.
Josie Duffy Rice: We love you. We love you here in Georgia.
Gideon Resnick: Legends don’t have to be old, yeah.
LaTosha Brown: They don’t have to be old. So I’ll take that.
LaTosha Brown: I’ll take that. Thank you for having me.
Josie Duffy Rice: Thank you for being here. So you are one of the many activists, including Stacey Abrams, who skipped out on Biden and Harris’s visit. She had a scheduling conflict, but you chose not to go on principle. So can you talk a little bit about why that is?
LaTosha Brown: You know, it was not our intention to be combative or be antagonistic to the president. Matter of fact, we are the ones that helped put him in office. We want his, him to succeed. We want his agenda to move forward. But we also know how critical it is for us to have voting rights legislation. What we were saying and continue to say is it is time out for talk, it is incumbent upon you and that we are holding you accountable to get it done. This should have been a priority for the president all the while. We know now that it wasn’t a priority for him last year. I’m happy that he has decided that he’s standing in this space to say that it’s a priority, but at this point, that’s not enough. At this point, we expect them to deliver.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And in terms of the delivery aspect of it, the plan seems to be from President Biden this filibuster carve out for those two voting bills that are on the table. Does that represent enough tangible action to get this done?
LaTosha Brown: I think it’s a start. I think that’s part of what we’ve been asking for for months, but I don’t think it’s enough. We have a political party in this country that is operating in such a way that they’re using the tools of divisiveness, of racism, of misinformation, and they are actively and openly attempting to dismember and dismantle democracy in this country. And we are treating this like we’re just talking about another bill. No, this is a serious, serious threat on democracy. And so what we’re going to expect, we expect that there will be federal voting rights legislation at the very minimum to make sure that there are some protection. And it doesn’t stop there. We’re going to have to have political structural reform. The fact that two senators would have that much power to be able to undermine an agenda that is being supported by millions and millions of people in this country, that in itself says that there is something fundamentally wrong with the political structure in this country.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And I think those two senators you might be alluding to are Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. If I’m not mistaken.
LaTosha Brown: Absolutely, absolutely. Manchin has been, quite frankly, he’s been a liar. Part of what we asked early on was that even with the infrastructure bill that you needed to attach voting rights legislation, that anything that was coming out needed to be attached to voting rights legislation, right? So that Manchin and his rich crony friends couldn’t just have a feast off the backs and the work of hard working Americans at the expense of not having to stand up for voting rights. So we think that that was one of the first colossal mistakes around this. But we also, but Manchin, we literally have to send a message to Manchin and Sinema not only should they not be serving, but they don’t even serve the constituents in their own states, and the American people need to hold him to account.
Gideon Resnick: You know, President Biden had been this figure in the Senate for so long so is it incumbent upon him to be singling out Manchin and Sinema? And how should he be doing that? And would that make the difference here?
LaTosha Brown: It is not my goal to beat up on Biden. You know, I want Biden to be his best self. But that’s just it. I need Biden to be his best self. I need Biden to stand in the space and literally not use the fullness of his bully pulpit, like use the powers that he has, his presidential powers and to put that pressure, right? But I also need Schumer to do what he needs to do to actually wrangle his party in. But aside from that, I need them to get the vote. Whether that means that you need to go and get to Republicans. But at the end of the day, I need you to get it done.
Gideon Resnick: Right.
Josie Duffy Rice: So on that point, right, I’m also in Georgia. We delivered the presidency. We delivered two senators. It was historic what happened in Georgia in 2020, and the Republicans are reacting in kind, right? So there’s a lot at stake if nothing is passed. This very week, the Republican-led state legislature here in Georgia is meeting to take up multiple voter restriction bills, right? Including one that would eliminate drop boxes in the state. That’s how I’ve always voted, going to the drop boxes. Those are going to be gone. So what are some of the problems that Georgia voters and voters nationwide could face when they go to the polls during this year’s midterm elections?
LaTosha Brown: You know, we’re seeing so many things. You know, that’s part of why we’re raising, we need federal legislation. And even with those two federal bills, it won’t be enough. It’s like death by a thousand cuts. That was the purpose of the Voting Rights Act in the first place, that putting in measures that would restrict access to the ballot. We’re seeing that right now. We’re seeing where there is a closure, massive closures of polling sites. We’ve seen that since 2013 when there was a gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the 1965. Many of us that were there at the Supreme Court kept saying that if this is gutted out, if you take out the preclearance clause—which is the clause that would give more federal oversight to the states that have been bad actors—if you take that out, what we’re going to see is we’re going to see massive closing of polling sites. That’s what we seen. Now, what you saw with this new law is that the party in power can, if they don’t like the results of the election, guess what they can do—they can actually challenge to turn over those elections. In addition to that, what they can actually do in the counties where you have election officials, they can indiscriminately just pull people off and replace votes on these election boards so that they can actually weaken the process of oversight. So I’m raising this for us to understand that we are in the middle of a battle that is not just about the elections. This isn’t just about the Democrats’ or the Republicans’ power, this is literally around the fundamental infrastructure that will support democracy in this nation is literally being unraveled every single day.
Josie Duffy Rice: And that’s happening in our county. So we’re both in Fulton County, and you’re seeing the state already come after Fulton County, which is, has the highest population in the state. So if there were more voting rights protections passed on the federal and local levels, right, what can I do for Fulton County? What does that mean if Biden takes this seriously, if we see actual voting rights legislation?
LaTosha Brown: We need the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voter Advanced Act. You know, the John Lewis Voter Advancement Act, what that does is it basically restores the Voting Rights Act. And the Freedom to Vote Act, what it does is it takes down some of the barriers and creates a more fair playing process for people to participate and have access to the ballot. For example, we have some states in the country right now, like Michigan, that you have same-day registration. You have other states that you have a long, arduous registration process. Why should an American that lives in one state and an American that lives in another state have a completely two different experiences on access to voting, right? So we’re saying that with the Freedom to Vote Act, we need to make sure that there is at least a floor, that there is some standard where that all citizens of this country can have free and fair and equitable access to the ballot, and that there is some protection mechanism and some oversight mechanism that those states or those areas or those politicians that abuse this process to actually advance themselves at the expense of undermining voting rights, that there is something that can hold them accountable.
Gideon Resnick: So for people that are listening, whether they’re in Georgia or outside of Georgia, what else can they do to kind of get involved here, get a stake in this, and actually make an impact?
LaTosha Brown: A number of things I think that people can do. Number one, you should get involved. If you don’t have a political home, I say it all the time like a broken record, you should find a political home. This is not the moment that your political analysis is coming from Twitter. Find an organization that you can be a part of, that you can actually shape your understanding, your beliefs, your positions with a collective, with a community so that there’s joint accountability. The second thing is support those people that are on the front lines. I would love to say rah rah, we’re going to keep going, we are going to keep going but damn it, we tired, you know? And so I think it’s important for us to support those groups, those grassroots and community-led groups that are on the front lines doing climate change work, those groups are doing education work, those groups are doing civic engagement work. Part of the reason why we’re in the position we’re in right now is because only half the population of this nation usually participates in the election, that in many ways we’ve actually allowed those who have been, who are abusing power to just take the reins of control and literally just kind of move us around like puppets. If America is to be a democracy, the people will have to make it be so. And so I think that leads us to the third thing, we have to radically reimagine every single system in this country. The truth of the matter is when we’re looking at the Senate, the Senate is not reflective of America.
Gideon Resnick: No.
LaTosha Brown: Has anybody taken a good look at the Senate lately.
Gideon Resnick: Right.
Josie Duffy Rice: We’ve got to create a representative government, then that means we’re going to also have to step outside of our comfort zone and put ourselves in places of position where we are literally taking over school boards, that we are literally seeing ourselves taking over county commissions, that we are taking over the Senate, that we literally need to make sure that whoever’s serving in those positions are actually serving in the best interests of the people that represent this nation.
Josie Duffy Rice: Absolutely. Thank you so much, LaTosha. LaTosha Brown is the co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund. Thank you so much for joining us on What A Day, and thank you so much for everything you’re doing in Georgia.
LaTosha Brown: Thank you. Thank you all for creating the platform. And listen, we work together, we win, so we will win.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. We’ll, of course, be following this story in the days and weeks ahead, but that is the latest for now. It’s Wednesday WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we are talking about the people who protect and serve us, as long as there are not any rare pocket monsters to pursue in our area. In 2017, two officers of the esteemed Los Angeles Police Department ignored a call to provide backup for a robbery in progress so that they could catch a Snorlax in the augmented reality game Pokémon Go—that is, according to recently released legal documents. Been there myself personally.
Josie Duffy Rice: Sounds totally fine, totally fine.
Gideon Resnick: Just normal occurrence. The officers were fired for choosing to chase after the sleeping giant called Snorlax instead of the metaphorical sleeping giant called crime. They challenged their suspension in court, but on Friday, a California appeals court upheld it, partly based on footage from their squad cars video recording system. The details of this are kind of unbelievable. So Josie would you mind reading some?
Josie Duffy Rice: Gideon, I would be thrilled to read these out loud. After responding to their commanding officers calls for backup by telling each other quote, “Aw, screw it!”—that is a direct quote. The two LAPD officers drove around in pursuit of the Snorlax for about 20 minutes. At one point, they were also distracted by a Pokémon called Togetic. Attack after they caught both Pokémon, they told each other quote, “The guys are going to be so jealous.” So it seems like they weren’t the only cops trying to catch them all in 2017.
Gideon Resnick: Woof.
Josie Duffy Rice: During courtroom testimony, the officers claimed that they weren’t actually playing Pokémon Go, but monitoring a quote, “Pokémon tracker.” They also said that Pokémon Go wasn’t a game, but a quote, “social media event” which more accurately describes the way these men have been roasted online since their story went public.
Gideon Resnick: It’s beyond belief, really. Too much for me to process this moment. Josie, what is your take on this, though?
Josie Duffy Rice: You know what, Gideon, this might be the answer to the LAPD’s problems, In most of their scandals they are inflicting brutality on everyone they can find. And so maybe this is like, I’m kind of fine with this. I’m like, you guys should just keep playing Pokémon Go. This feels like an answer to all of our concerns, you know?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s certainly the most like innocuous LAPD Google alerts you will get.
Josie Duffy Rice: I do find it interesting that apparently the LAPD will fire you for playing Pokémon Go, but will not fire you for shooting people.
Gideon Resnick: Right.
Josie Duffy Rice: I do you feel like that’s something they should work through? Figure out.
Gideon Resnick: Right. Priorities certainly not in order for all of the people that we are talking about. I can’t believe it. I look forward to reading the rest of the legal documents, but just like that, we have checked our temps. We will be back after some ads.
Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced yesterday that Russia will begin withdrawing its troops from Kazakhstan this week. For the past several days, the authoritarian Kazakh government has struggled to calm the violence spurred by nationwide anti-government protests. The president called on Russia for assistance, and it obliged by deploying 2,500 troops. Tokayev said yesterday that the troops were successful in stabilizing the country and that their withdrawal would take quote, “no more than 10 days.” But Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu did not give a clear timeline for when its troops plan to leave. Many are worried that Russia won’t actually withdraw, given the country’s track record of lingering in nations they are sent to as, quote unquote “peacekeepers.” Meanwhile, Russia is failing to keep the peace in its talks with the U.S. in Geneva. Yesterday, the country threatened to stop negotiating if Washington does not accept its demand that Ukraine and Georgia not be allowed to join NATO—point of clarity for the audience, not the state of Georgia that we were just talking about. Thank you. Anyway.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, that would be huge news.
Gideon Resnick: Yes.
Josie Duffy Rice: Funny joke there. Funny foreign policy jokes. Chicago students and teachers are back in school today after a long standoff between the city and the Chicago Teachers Union. For over a week, teachers and staff refused to work in person, citing concerns over rising COVID cases in the city. They wanted to continue teaching remotely, but the school district canceled classes entirely because it wanted in-person learning or nothing—kind of the definition of cutting off your nose to spite your face, but I digress. City officials have been negotiating with the union for several days in hopes of getting students back in the classroom, with the breakthrough happening on Monday. The union’s House of Delegates approved a proposal put forth by the city that would expand contact tracing and COVID testing, as well as provide students and staff with KN95 masks. The delegates voted to suspend their work stoppage that same day, but this comes as the country continues to grapple with the highly-transmissible Omicron variant. The U.S. reported a record breaking 1.4 million new COVID cases yesterday—1.4 million, unbelievable.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Wow.
Josie Duffy Rice: And hospitalizations reached an all-time high, with over 140,000 patients admitted over the past week. That’s a number that surpasses the peak number of hospitalizations recorded last winter.
Gideon Resnick: Yes, still a very, very intense and scary stretch that we were all at this moment.
Josie Duffy Rice: Truly.
Gideon Resnick: Here are eight words that drive all NASDAQ’s wild: today was a big day for union news. First, a new vote is on for the Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama that are trying to unionize. The National Labor Relations Board said that new ballots are going to be mailed out on February 4th. Now, listeners might remember that the results from the first election were thrown out by the board last fall because Amazon did some questionable things like installing a collection box at the warehouse, making it seem like the company monitored how people voted. The ballots will be counted starting at the end of March. Then, meanwhile, Starbucks baristas pulled off another victory in Buffalo, New York, on Monday. A store in the city became the second to unionize after disputed ballots from last month’s election were resolved, making the final vote 15 to 9 in favor of the union. Starbucks workers in Cleveland, Ohio, and Hopewell Township, New Jersey, also announced this week that they are launching unionization efforts, pointing to a growing number of Starbucks nationwide that aren’t just leaving room for milk, they also want room for worker solidarity.
Josie Duffy Rice: Deep.
Gideon Resnick: Thank you.
Josie Duffy Rice: The writer and poet Maya Angelou is set to become the first Black woman to be depicted on the U.S. quarter. This is the perfect coin to flip over and over as you strike an intimidating pose outside the office of your senator and refuse to leave until they get you voting rights. Angelou’s likeness is part of a set of commemorative coins in the American Women Quarters program, which reportedly includes five quarters per year. The other women who will be etched onto the food that laundry machines eat, include Sally Ride, Anna May Wong, and Wilma Mankiller—what an incredible name. A different but only slightly less important line of collectibles is also honoring heroic women of color: Mattel has announced a new Barbie doll of journalist, educator, and civil rights leader Ida B. Wells as part of a series that previously also included Maya Angelou. Wells great granddaughter said in a statement that she was honored and that quote, “This is an incredible opportunity to shine a light on her truth and enduring legacy to empower a new generation to speak up for what they believe in.” And I would encourage everybody to also take the Barbie with them to their senator’s office as they protest for voting rights. I just want to let everybody know quarters are great, journalist Barbie is great, we still want our voting rights.
Gideon Resnick: Right, right. Exactly. We can’t have this be an either or scenario. That does not work.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah.
Gideon Resnick: And those are the headlines.
Josie Duffy Rice: One more thing before we go: check out the latest episode of Hysteria. Erin Ryan is back from maternity leave. Welcome back.
Gideon Resnick: Woo woo!
Josie Duffy Rice: And she joins co-host Alyssa Mastromonaco to talk about the anniversary of the January 6th riots, plus comedians Megan Gailey, Kara Klenk, and OBGYN and reproductive health advocate Dr. Heather Irobunda join to discuss the myths, pressures, expectations, and surprises of pregnancy and postpartum. I will definitely be listening to that and yelling to myself about all the myths, pressures, expectations, and surprises of pregnancy and postpartum, of which there are many. New episodes of Hysteria drop every Thursday. Listen and follow wherever you get your podcasts.
Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, leave room for milk and worker solidarity, and tell your friends to Listen.
Josie Duffy Rice: And if you were into reading, and not just Maya Angelou’s name on currency like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.
Gideon Resnick: And Gideon Resnick.
[together] Let Snorlax live his life!
Gideon Resnick: That’s a big guy to be putting into a tiny Poké Ball.
Josie Duffy Rice: Snorlax didn’t ask me involved in an LAPD lawsuit. You know?
Gideon Resnick: He just wants to loaf around and sleep. Let him be.
Josie Duffy Rice: I feel like this is a good time to tell people that I don’t actually know what Pokémon do. Anyway, we’ll cover that in the future.
Gideon Resnick: This guy’s famous for sleeping.
Josie Duffy Rice: Oh! Snore-lax! I get it.
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.