In This Episode
DERAY MCKESSON: Hey, this is DeRay and welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode is me, Sam, Kaya and De’ara as usual, talking about the news that you don’t know from the past week, the news that you should know. And then I sit down with Millete, of the Tigray Action Committee, to discuss the conflict in Ethiopia.
My advice for this week is to go to your grandparents, aunts, uncles whoever is older in your family, go to their house and take photos of the photos. Copy the photos, whatever it is. I think about my last visit to my grandmother’s house, and the photos in the basement, me and my sister are scheduling a weekend to just go to grandma’s house, and make sure that we get the photos before something happens to them. Get the photos, make sure that you keep them, is such great photos. I think about all the pictures that my grandpa took of us that I know exist but I haven’t seen in a long time. Get the photos.
DE’ARA BALENGER: Family, welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. Welcome back, happy to have you I’m De’ara Balenger, you can find me on Twitter and Instagram @de’arabalenger.
SAM SINYANGWE: And I’m Sam Sinyangwe @samswey on Twitter.
KAYA HENDERSON: I’m Kaya Henderson @hendersonkaya Twitter.
DERAY MCKESSON: I’m DeRay @deray Twitter.
DE’ARA BALENGER: All right y’all, we’re coming to you during, its day two of the Olympics, I think. But I’m so excited to have been watching. I’m in Spain for the next week or so. So I’ve been trying to watch as much as I can given the different time zones. But from what I’ve seen has been really exciting, and really fabulous. There’s still a lot going on, each day we’re hearing about somebody else that has tested positive for COVID and that can’t participate. So obviously that puts a bummer on things. I’m also super excited to see Naomi Osaka play. I just finished watching her documentary that the amazing girl Bradley directed. So super exciting about these things and glad to have a welcome reprieve from what the news cycle typically is.
SAM SINYANGWE: I mean it was pretty cool to see all of the opening ceremony, the festivities, you had Naomi Osaka lighting the torch which was a really powerful image to see. And then you had all of the different uniforms. I hadn’t really up until this Olympics really appreciated the ceremony itself, and I uniforms it’s part of the ceremony. But seeing Ralph Lauren designed the American uniforms, which were in my opinion a little bit bland. Looks like sailors I don’t know is that–
DE’ARA BALENGER: They did I thought they looked they looked a little French to me with the.
SAM SINYANGWE: Yeah. There was like a sailor outfit and I was like this is a very 1945 look OK. But some of the other countries are really cool. So you had Liberia had an incredible outfit that they had designed. You had Democratic Republic of Congo, you had a whole bunch of really cool and innovative looks, and then the US was just standard. But that was an interesting part of it, and then there was the actual competitions themselves, which I’ll admit I haven’t seen a whole lot of, I saw a lot around the opening ceremony. There was a little bit less about the actual competition, I know we’re still early in it but I haven’t seen a lot of clips I haven’t found it like watch it online yet so I’m still early in the game. But I did see the ceremony.
KAYA HENDERSON: I watched skateboarding last night which is a fairly new Olympic sport. And really my heart was in my chest the whole entire time, because it just looks like stuff that you’re not supposed to be doing, like skating on banisters and handrails and things. But it was very interesting. And then of course I’m rooting for everybody Black and so watching all of this the treatment of Black women in the Olympics on the one hand, I want to support Black girl magic and I’m all in for a Simone and Jordan and Quinn and Naomi and all of these other women. And at the same time I’m watch with one eye open skeptical about how Black women are being treated at the Olympics. And so is an interesting time. On the one hand, I want to feel patriotic, and on the other hand I’m a little skeptical.
DERAY MCKESSON: It’s interesting one of the reasons why Sam you have not seen clips, is that NBC apparently is not letting Olympic clips be shared on Twitter, which I didn’t know, it’s one of the reasons why none of us have seen really these clips, because we’re out here doing all this stuff and there are no highlights, it’s weirdly not on Twitter right now. And that was just such a– I don’t know what the business deal was, but talk about a missed opportunity, that is just an incredible opportunity. I was shocked to see the USA men’s basketball team lose the game against France. You’re like come on y’all.
And it was one of those things where I think that some of the players didn’t get to the hotel till 1:00 AM. It was travel all that stuff, but still I didn’t expect America to lose and the first person to win a medal at all for the US and it was a gold medal is Chase Kalisz who is a Marylander. And is a Michael Phelps protege who won in the 400 individual medley, so shout out to him because we’re off to a good start with the gold there I’m excited to see what Simone Biles does, I’m excited to see what the rest of everything. And this is I think the first year that, is this year rock-climbing’s first year?
SAM SINYANGWE: Yep rock climbing and skateboarding.
DERAY MCKESSON: And skateboarding.
SAM SINYANGWE: Yeah.
DERAY MCKESSON: OK cool. Kaya you did see skateboarding?
KAYA HENDERSON: I did I watched it last night. It was fascinating. Street skating and then the skate park skateboarding.
DERAY MCKESSON: Was there a country that clearly stood out to you?
KAYA HENDERSON: I mean the US is doing pretty good, the Japanese were fascinating. There’s a French dude who was winning, who was the number one as I was watching last night. And I will say that come on y’all, we invented skateboarding we invented basketball, shouldn’t we be dominating in the sport.
OK my news this week comes from the city of Cleveland whose baseball team changed its name to the Guardians after 100 years of calling themselves the Cleveland Indians. As you know across the country we have watched the backlash and conversation, and ultimately change around indigenous names and mascots in our sports teams. And I thought this was an interesting story for a couple of reasons. I think that number one, again for 100 years, this team has called itself the Indians, and for a very long time, of course, there was not any momentum to change the name, in fact there’s one activist named Philip Yenyo, who’s been protesting outside of the stadium for 30 years to change the name.
But when the team decided to do it, they did it collectively, and they did it very locally, which I think is an important way to think about change. While this is a national conversation, ultimately how you do things in your own community matters a lot. And so the team consulted with indigenous organizations like the National Congress of American Indians. They talked a lot about outreach to local Clevelanders, in helping to figure out what the name was going to be, that is extensive outreach to 40,000 fans. They assert that the new name has significant local meaning, The Guardians are a pair of statues on a bridge that is in Cleveland, that if you’re local a lot about it, if you’re a national it doesn’t have the same impact. But I think action is where it’s at, which is in local communities.
And what I was really I think impressed by is local indigenous leaders response to this, they could be salty about it, they could be it’s about time, blah, blah, blah. But Suzan Harjo, who’s a native American activist said it’s never too late to do the right thing. Other folks from the National Congress of American Indians, said it’s a difficult but appropriate decision. And the team themselves said, we’re trying to be extremely respectful, and their goal is to represent the entire city.
And I think that when we think about doing hard things that are inclusive. This to me is an example that we can talk for a zillion years about what they didn’t do right, and all that jazz. But I think we need more examples of pathways forward together, where we can acknowledge what we didn’t do in the past and work together towards a different future. And so my hat goes off to all of the folks, including sponsors like Nike and FedEx and Pepsi, who are putting pressure on teams to make these changes, that actually it takes a village to make big change. So hats off to the Cleveland Guardians , and I wish them luck.
SAM SINYANGWE: So this conversation has been ongoing for what seems like so long, I feel like we’re talking about changing the name of a sports team, and we’ve been talking about it for years, and finally they went through this whole process, which is a necessary process you describe Kaya, of getting input, what the new name should be, making sure that it’s inclusive, of the voices of people who in particular were affected by the racism of the first name. And so again there’s been a process, it’s good that this has actually arrived, a name, The Cleveland Guardians. It was also interesting to see the reaction from the right wing, who are really mad about the name changing and saying that The Guardians isn’t a good name. And it’s you know I don’t know there’s teams named after Sox, there’s a whole bunch stuff going on. And you’re going to pick a fight about the name Guardians.
So I’m glad that they changed the name, it is wild to me how long it took to do this. Because this is the replacement of a name, but the other institutional dynamics within the industry remain present. There is a lot of harder work to be done within sports in general, to make sure that folks, particularly black folks aren’t just players and not coaches, and not team owners to have a real stake and power within the actual industry. But baby steps I guess, one step at a time. This is a change that is important, and I hope that this will be an impetus for more changes within the industry. I know this aside but seeing that bust of Nathan that for Forrest come down in Tennessee was another sort of example of how these are symbolic changes but they matter. This is replacing racist symbols and the iconography of white supremacy in our landscape. So it’s not a small thing, it does matter, but obviously there’s a lot more work to do.
So my news is about the Biden administration, which in the middle of the pandemic you’ll recall that there was a lot of organizing and activism at the local, state, and federal levels to reduce prison populations, jail populations, get folks out of jail, not only as a way to reduce incarceration, but also to reduce the spread of the pandemic. And so at the federal level, about 4,000 people are currently on home confinement, who’ve been released from federal prison, and had gone through a whole screening process to make sure that they’re eligible, that they had served time, et cetera, et cetera. Are in communities, have already been released. And now the Biden administration has issued a legal opinion, that essentially when the pandemic ends, when the emergency ends, they say that everybody who has been released to home confinement under that pandemic authorization will have to go back to prison, and that’s 4,000 people.
So this is obviously disheartening. It is a legal opinion. It doesn’t mean that the Biden administration can’t act for example through executive clemency which would actually be able to keep folks out of prison, and Biden could do with signing a piece of paper or an act of Congress which could also help. But obviously this is a big deal in the broader conversation as we think about the pandemic, which is not going away. It seems if anything seems to be coming back.
But there are a lot of decisions that were made early on in the pandemic, not only by the federal government, but by a host of institutions that are now so slowly being unwound and reversed when it comes to reducing incarceration or policing and this is the latest example of that. And I’m hopeful that this can be an opportunity to actually push Biden to use that executive clemency power that he has. He can use broadly to do without legislation, has not done, and could do it in this case to keep 4,000 people from going back to prison.
KAYA HENDERSON: This is one of those things to me where there’s an opportunity to lead very differently. You could lean on the letter of the law and say, oh well when the pandemic is over, whenever that is, our hands are tied and we just have to do this because this is what the law says. Or you can be creative in your leadership and do what you think is good and right for people. And I think that the Biden administration has an opportunity to lead differently.
I think that Mr Biden in his campaign rhetoric talked a lot about reducing incarceration and overhauling the criminal justice system. And I think this is one of those put up or shut up kind of times. There are ways, you don’t have to do a blanket commutation of the people, you can put a process in place where people are evaluated and whatnot. And so this is that bogus leadership BS where people are like, Oh, we can’t, because policy says or the law says as DeRay said in the last thing.
Rituals are created by us, but laws and policies are created by us, and processes are created by us. And this is a chance for this administration to do something different as far as I’m concerned.
DERAY MCKESSON: The other thing too is that just as a matter of policy. It doesn’t make sense. You’re like you let the people go home they got jobs they reconnected with family, they’ve made lives. And taking them back inside, unadjusting that, is just bad policy. You’re that doesn’t even — there’s no data to show that they re-offednded, and there’s none of that, and it’s a weird thing, if this was corporations, the corporations fail.
They were going to go under if we did not bail them out. The banks failed. If we did not bail them out it would be no more. We’ve bent all the rules. That’s like this set of people we let them out, they’re out, let them out. Like if anything, we should be giving them an extra stipend to make up for all the craziness where we almost killed them in jail with COVID.
This disappoints me, it makes me sad, and also this might show the limitations of what it means to have good people in the inside. Is good people, we like the people in the DOJ. They’re not even people we’re fighting against, we like Christine, we like Vinita, we like Lisa Monaco. Merrick Garland is a good guy. And yet still you see these things happen. I am at a loss, it’s like if we can’t all agree that this doesn’t make sense, it’s like what can we agree on?
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DE’ARA BALENGER: So my news today comes from Vice. The headline of it really caught me, that’s really how I got here. But it was Do black women have to save the police too? Wow. There’s just so much to unpack there. But just in terms of where they were going with this. Of the five women leading police departments in the nation’s 30th most populous cities, four of them are Black women. You know this article talks about how a lot of police reform advocates are celebrating the shift in power, and getting these Black women in these roles. And there’s a belief that, but it’s also fact when Black women are in leadership, good things happen.
With that though, understanding that Black women, particularly in these roles as police Chiefs police commissioners are still going to face quite an uphill battle when it comes from acceptance from their peers, particularly their white peers, white male peers. The story goes on to talk about yes you have some black women who have ascended to these roles, but black women are still disproportionately a small slice of police officers. In 2021, there was a study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics that said that there’s just 3% of full-time officers within all of the police force. You know there’s also indication too that women police officers in general, there’s less incidence of them killing people. Less incidence, they still do. But less.
So I just wanted to bring this to you all, because I thought especially for you DeRay and Sam, just in getting your reactions to this. And also Kaya just, you being a Black woman that has led a massive operation. The headline stuck with me, from a very fundamental perspective. I do believe that a black woman leading anything makes it better. I also know that we can have black representation in office at the very highest levels of office, and still not see the type of change that we need and deserve. So I don’t know where are these women? There in Louisville, Philadelphia, Memphis and Cleveland. I think are the ones that this article– Columbus it’s Columbus not Cleveland and in Detroit as well.
And in Columbus remember we there was Ma’Khia Bryant, who remember she was killed by that police officer the same day that the verdict for George Floyd came out. So anyway I just wanted to bring it to you all, because I thought this was fascinating and a real exploration of what leadership looks like, and how we examine and hold leaders accountable, even when they’re black, and Black women.
SAM SINYANGWE: Thanks for bringing this to the Pod, De’ara. This is a conversation around the demographics of policing that has been going on for a long time as well. And there’s been a lot of research looking into the impact of for example, having a black police chief or Sheriff, compared to a white police chief or Sheriff, or a given officer. And the research evidence is inconclusive. It suggests to your point De’ara that there can be some improvements when you have police officers and folks who are in charge of police departments, and Sheriff’s departments that are black, there is a difference, according to some of the research. So there was a study looking at sheriffs that was done by George Pullman, a researcher at University of California, Santa Cruz. And he actually found, looking at places that had a change from a white Sheriff to a Black Sheriff, found that when a Black Sheriff replaces a white Sheriff, there was a decrease in racial disparities in low level arrests. So under a Black Sheriff there were less likely to make arrests for a whole bunch of low-level offenses, particularly of black people.
So what the researchers suggested was that indicated a different approach by Black sheriffs, compared to white sheriffs that resulted in less racial disparities, although still racial disparities. So to your point, things are better, there is less, but still there are still problems. And so that’s also similar with research like Bakar, another researcher looked at officer race, and found black officers were less likely to use force against black people, less likely to arrest black people for low-level offenses, and some of these minor non-violent issues, compared to white officers. But still did so to a higher degree than they did for white people. So they were still acting in biased ways just less than white officers were. So yes I think having more black police Chiefs, black women police Chiefs, prosecutors et cetera, can improve the outcomes and result in less of the bad things. But the bad things still exist. The systemic problems still remain even when you change around like who the people are in those positions.
So I’m hopeful that yes, that some of those shifts that are already ongoing can continue to happen and can make a difference. But that we don’t stop there. That we don’t think that that is going to solve the problem, because the research says it won’t. That the problem still exists, even when you have a Black Sheriff, even when you have a black officer, et cetera, that’s what comes to mind with this conversation. That has to be necessarily nuanced and complex, because the problem is complex and solution has to be multifaceted too.
KAYA HENDERSON: made me go back to an article that I read a couple of years ago, I found it again, and it was in the Huffington Post. And the title is Why We Hire Women and Minorities to Clean Up Our Messes. And it effectively says that whenever a company or a country or a department or anything is in trouble, they hire a woman and or a minority to fix it. And so whether it is President Obama who came in at during one of the worst recessions in history, or the woman at General Motors who came in after General Motors fell apart.
There are countless examples of this happening in the corporate world. But the idea is that when things are about to go bad or when things have gone bad, you hire a woman and or a minority to fix it. And on the one hand, I’m rooting for everybody Black, and I believe deeply in the competence and magic of Black women as leaders, it’s also pretty offensive and galling, that you don’t give these people a job, they are qualified for the jobs. And you don’t give these people the jobs when you’re passing out the candy to everybody else. But once things go bad you look to them, because you want to soften your image, or you want to promote this sense of equity, or because you just need help, and black women get things done.
And so the phenomenon is called the glass cliff, and there’s research around it. I’m offended slightly I watch it in the superintendency. I’ve seen lots of cases where folks will mess up whole entire districts, and then they call in the black woman, or they call him women to fix it. And we’ve got to, one We just need to stop with this garbage, and we need to give Black women their due. And I hope that these women, I mean these police Chiefs, have put in the time, they’re clearly experienced, and I want to be happy for them. But I’m also like damn, why we got to be to clean cleanup women? Why can’t we just lead the way we want to lead? You know the song that’s playing in my head, but we’ll leave that where it is. I mean we have to do better with black women’s leadership.
DERAY MCKESSON: My news is about Philadelphia, another wild story. So the short version is that there is a notoriously bad police chief, police Chief Rizzo who was the police chief in Philadelphia for a very long time. It is not a secret anymore that he was corrupt. And while there’s been really good work around exonerating people who were wrongfully convicted, it seems like every year there are more and more people where it comes out that there were wrongful convictions that go back farther than people knew.
With this story in the Philadelphia Inquirer it’s called Sex For Lies . And essentially there were a set of police officers who were getting incarcerated people to claim that they were witnesses or were told or knew something about other crimes to lock people up, because the police are trying to just wrap up some cold cases, and they were promised sex in return. So the police would take them down to the police department room, would bring either their partner, or a sex worker in for them to have sex with, and that was the reward for false confessions.
And what’s even wild is that there were some people who agreed to do this, and then at the end were like this is wrong, backed out. So they get up on the stand and then they don’t cooperate, they say you know I’m not going to lie. And then the prosecutors actually charge them with perjury, and they get these epically long sentences. That’s the short version of this. The reason I bring this here is that even for the people on our side, even the progressives, the people who know the system is corrupt, I think people don’t understand how much credence we give to just the simple fact that you got arrested, or there’s a charge.
That just carries an out sized weight in most people’s mind, so that’s one. The second is that this story is just a reminder of how the police can’t act alone, it requires a prosecutor who will prosecute you for perjury, even when they said the police made me tell a lie. That the prosecutors actually participate in this, the judges participate in this whole scheme, and who is actually protecting the victim, there are a lot of victims in this story. And this story that people incarcerated are also victims. And who is actually protecting those people? It seems like it’s probably a reporter in this, but this is so far after it’s happened.
The third thing is I don’t even know what the fix is besides like radically descaling the police. But what I’m always amazed by with the police, is actually you actually don’t need a police officer in power to do bad things. So there a lot of places you actually need the leader has to endorse something really bad for it to scale. In schools. I think about an individual teacher can do a lot of bad, but you know schools are pretty open, and there’s a lot of people always around normally I think about that one as in the school system.
It was like there were a few incidents where somebody did something that nobody saw or knew anything about or did it. But the police have such incredible power, that one officer at the lowest rank can change somebody’s life forever. With no recourse, no appeal, no– I think about the appeals that came to me when I was in the school system. It was people would say stuff and we look into it, we’re like nope not suspended for that. There were ways that we could get around people who lied or didn’t, they would be investigated.
It’s the police you get one police officer who just says something is true or not true, and that’ll change somebody’s life. When you start shooting up poor people, the poorest people who can’t afford a lawyer, can’t afford an expert. Who might have made a mistake in their life before, So. People are predisposed to believe that they might be likely to do the bad thing that they’re accused of now. It’s just another reminder that with the police it doesn’t require a high ranking person to do bad, any of them can change people’s lives forever.
SAM SINYANGWE: I mean thinking about the level of discretion that the police have, and the fact that they can do all of these things. Not only is there no recourse, but the law is designed to help them get away with those things. And to make it hard to actually prosecute them or discipline them for anything. And I’m thinking about in Illinois how next year, officially after– because they passed legislation, will become the first state to ban police. Making it illegal for police to lie to kids. That’s the law.
And it becomes the first state with the law making it illegal for police to lie to kids in an interrogation, which of course will have huge consequences for that kid’s life. If the police we saw Central Park 5, and all of what happens when the police get kids to essentially– they lie to kids, they frighten kids, intimidate them. They have all of this discretion. They could take you into a locked room for however many hours they want, and get kids to confess to crimes they didn’t even commit. That could then have enormous impacts for the rest of their lives, for the rest of their family’s life. Apparently the law didn’t even make it a crime to a lot of kids in interrogation as a police officer.
So good on Illinois for becoming the first state to make that a crime and make that illegal, but honestly that is wild, the level of discretion that the police have, and DeRay your example of historically how many times these things have happened. They’re still happening, and we have no accounting of just the extent to which this is happening, because it is swept under the rug. The law does permit this to happen. And it’s very hard to get even basic transparency into what happened, because they erase the records also. So it’s wild.
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DERAY MCKESSON: Since America’s election in 2020, there’s been a war raging in Ethiopia’s northernmost region. You probably have questions about it, and don’t know what’s going on, I didn’t. That’s why I wanted to make sure that Millete came on the show today. She’s on the Tigray Action Committee, to explain what’s happening on the ground and to tell us how we can help. Here we go.
Millete, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
MILLETE: Thank you. Thank you for having us.
DERAY MCKESSON: So I’m excited that you’re here to talk about a topic that I know very little about. I’ve seen it on Instagram, I’ve seen it on Twitter. And I’m like Oh no. So can you help us understand your relationship with Ethiopia, how are you a content expert? Why do you know anything about what’s going on with the conflict? And then let’s get to what’s happening in Ethiopia right now.
MILLETE: Yes. So my name’s Millete, I live in Denver. I’m a journalist entrepreneur, I own a social justice cafe in the city. And my whole back story explains what’s happening right now in Tigray, in Ethiopia. So I was born in Sudan, in a refugee camp, because the same thing that was happening in the 70s and 80s, is happening right now. And essentially the state of Ethiopia has turned on its people. And is bombing its own citizens. And has invited a foreign country in to attack its own citizens. Those citizens being the people of Tigray. And so my parents fled as children. Not children, my mom was a teenager, my dad was a young man. They ended up in Sudan, and that’s where I was born. And so now fast forward, four decades later almost, those same camps are full again, for the same reason.
DERAY MCKESSON: And what is that reason? I’ve heard about the conflict in Tigray, I literally don’t know what the conflict is. Some people have said it’s genocide, some people have said it’s a Civil War. You said this is just like the second wave, is it something that happened before? Can you just help us understand, I don’t know, why? What is the nexus of the conflict?
MILLETE: So at its core, it’s an issue of a strong centralized form of government, or an ethnic group being able to rule themselves, and keep their culture. And essentially survive and not be taken over by a dominant culture. What that’s turned into is a genocide on the people of Tigray. So I’m going to take you back just a little bit to what’s called the Kero movement. There’s the youth group that essentially protested in the streets of Ethiopia, because of what they saw as unfairness to their ethnic group. They didn’t think they had enough power, they didn’t think– economically they weren’t doing well, there were a number of issues with this group. And so they took to the streets and protested en masse essentially. And this was about three to four years ago.
And so what happened is the prime minister at the time, did what literally no African leader ever does, he quit. He was like, I can’t do this, isn’t working for me. He quit.
DERAY MCKESSON: He’s I got to go, I got to go.
MILLETE: I got to go, I can’t handle this. And so what happened next is, a man named Abiy Ahmed, who no one knew, Although he was part of the inner workings of the previous government, EPRDF, was brought into power as the prime minister. So he had an appointment, and was supposed to get the people to an election.
DERAY MCKESSON: So he was supposed to be the holdover, because the guy left, and then somebody had to lead the government. So he was the somebody, and he’s supposed to get us to the real leader?
MILLETE: Exactly right. Exactly. So one quick back story to that though, Abiy Ahmed, his whole appointment was brokered in the United States, by the Trump administration. Let me tell you, he also subscribes to the prosperity gospel that Mike Pence subscribes to. So this has been a huge issue in terms of what’s been happening and the support that he’s been getting. So that’s just a little bit of back story. So Abiy Ahmed is appointed, he’s supposed to get the people to an election. Instead, he uses COVID as an excuse. Do you remember when Trump was trying to do that? And postpones the election three or four times, the last time it’s an indefinite suspension of the election. So the two Tigrayans, decide OK there’s not going to be a national election, but per the Constitution, we have a right to do a regional election.
And so they hold a regional election, they elect their leaders. And so this and it’s great, there’s all these photos of long lines.
DERAY MCKESSON: Do they always elect leaders or is this new?
MILLETE: Yes. No, no they do. All the states, there are 10 states in Ethiopia, that have their own regional governments, that are stronger, supposed to be stronger than the central government. Is the structure we currently have.
DERAY MCKESSON: And that is how it’s designed to be that way, it’s supposed to be 10 strong regional governments?
DERAY MCKESSON: And the federal government that just sort of holds everything together a little bit.
MILLETE: Exactly right. That ties all these–
DERAY MCKESSON: Got it.
DERAY MCKESSON: OK. So the regional election in Tigray is not abnormal? It’s not–
DERAY MCKESSON: OK. There we go, got it.
DERAY MCKESSON: I’m learning more in this thing, we only been talking for six minutes and I’m like school me. OK here we go.
MILLETE: Yes so Tigrayans hold their election, there’s great photos of it, they have observers that come in. They’re like COVID protocol, they’re spraying people’s shoes, I mean it’s wonderful. They elect their leaders. But here’s the problem now, they’ve made Abiy Ahmed look a little bit foolish. Because he’s the one who comes in saying he’s going to bring democracy to Ethiopia and he’s liberalizing the economy essentially selling off National assets to foreign investors. But he’s supposed to be this darling of the West, but he postpones elections, while the Tigrayans hold elections. So this is a dilemma for him. So that was the straw that broke the camel’s back essentially. So Abiy Ahmed decides now he’s going to go to war with the Tigrayans.
And so he mobilizes a lot of the rest of Ethiopian, people of different nationalities within Ethiopia to attack Tigray. Now how do you do that? He can’t say because they had an election. So he has to make up a story. So he comes up with this crazy story that the Tigrayans attacked a federal base, so that they look treasonous. They attacked a federal base, we can’t let this fly, we’ve got to attack. Well now in hindsight, initially when it happened, a lot of us were dumbfounded. We’re like did this happen? Did they attack a base? I mean you start to question your own people you know what I mean?
DERAY MCKESSON: You’re like goodness, you like y’all sit here like come on you didn’t attack the base right?
MILLETE: Right. And so we’re all like grappling with what actually happened, and we don’t know, because at the same time that he starts this war supposedly in response to this attack, he also shuts off all the communication. So there’s now no electricity, there is no internet, there are no phones. So you can’t get any information out, except for what Abiy Ahmed wants you to know. And what he wants you to know is they attacked a base. So we have to respond. So that’s how he justifies this .
The problem with that now in hindsight is, we have so much more information, including the fact that there had been movement of soldiers up to Tigray, weeks before the attack happened
DERAY MCKESSON: I did hear this. I didn’t know any context about it, but I heard something about the soldiers. I did hear that.
MILLETE: They had been moving up weeks, before the attack, the so-called base attack. So that’s one thing. The other thing is we have now, a US Senator on the record, saying that they spoke with Abiy Ahmed, about him wanting to go to war with the Tigrayans. And the US essentially trying to convince him not to do that, before the attack. Before. But there is all of this information, now that shows this was premeditated, he had planned to attack the Tigrayans. And the reason why is, they didn’t fall into the fold.
So what Abiy Ahmed did is when he came into power instead of holding elections, he reorganized the power structures in Ethiopia. And he created what he called the Prosperity Party. He’s basically told everyone fold into the Prosperity Party, and I’m your ruler, I’m going to be your King. That’s not an exaggeration by the way, he literally said his mom had a dream that he would be King of Ethiopia. It’s a literal thing that was said, that people talk about all the time, and that his actions show.
So the Tigrayans were the only ones who said no. We like the Federalist system that we have in place. We’re going to keep following the Constitution so long as that Constitution isn’t changed, which it hasn’t been. And refused to join the Prosperity Party, so he saw that as confrontational, and the election is what pushed them over the edge.
DERAY MCKESSON: Where are we today?
MILLETE: So Abiy Ahmed says we had to attack Tigrayans, because they attacked a base right? Even if the Tigrayans had attacked a base, that’s a military attack. So if there was a proportionate military attack, that would be one conversation. What happened instead is, Abiy Ahmed not only came in to Tigray and attack Tigrayans. But you had soldiers coming in from Eritrea. Eritrean soldiers to come and help the Ethiopian government attack its own citizens. And as a result we have massive looting, massive destruction of infrastructure. They were burning farmlands, they were looting institutions, they were looting museums, taking ancient artifacts. Massacres in churches, including in a town called Aksum, where the Ark of the Covenant is held, a town that I’m from.
Where hundreds and hundreds of people were massacred in a church. You had soldiers going door to door, executing young boys, because they said, we don’t want you to grow up and seek revenge later. I would argue the worst. You had girls and women who were being raped, I mean gang raped by soldiers. And so you have an attack on the people. And so what happened is the people fought back. The Tigrayan people fought back. Because it was stay home and be killed or raped, or watch your sister be raped, or watch your dad or grandpa being forced to rape his daughter or granddaughter, or it was go out in the field and have a chance to survive. And so Tigrayans en masse joined the resistance, and came out and fought back against these soldiers.
DERAY MCKESSON: And what’s Biden’s team doing?
MILLETE: Trump was largely silent. Because remember when– this started on election night in the United States.
DERAY MCKESSON: I didn’t know that.
MILLETE: Yep, I was like you, watching the election, watching Trump lose, feeling really good. And then I had a friend come over and she was in tears, and I’m like no, don’t worry, Trump’s losing. And she’s like no, the Ethiopian government has bombed Tigray. And I’m like what do we do? And we couldn’t call, everything was shut off, everything was just, we couldn’t get through so we didn’t know what was happening to the people. So under Trump, because he still had some time after he lost, nothing was happening. And so we were frustrated here in the diaspora. You have Tigrayan youth who took to Twitter. Let me tell you Twitter saved us.
Because we took to Twitter, and I’m talking about thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of young people, who when you’re fighting for love, when you’re fighting for the love of your family, you’re fighting because you can’t reach your grandmother like I couldn’t, you’re doing it day and night, 24/7 and you’re never getting tired. And so it was interesting too, because there were all these pundits, and people who try to analyze what’s happening. And they would say things like, Oh these are bots, or these are people working for the government. And so there was actually a story in the Washington Post that analyzed it to see like are these bots? And then came back and said, man these are real people. And they were, it was us. It was us in the diaspora all over the world fighting for our families.
Fortunately by the time Biden got into office, which felt like forever. Because we’ve been fighting this genocide now for 226 days. When Biden came in, there’s been a lot of great conversation, and a lot of great talk about how this is wrong. How you can’t attack the people, you can’t bomb a market, on market day, which happened by the way in a town called Togoga. So all of the talk was there, there have been sanctions finally on the Ethiopian government, and the Eritrean government. But it hasn’t stopped, no one has come in to help the people. And so what happened is the people had to fight back for themselves. And if the people didn’t do that, and if they didn’t save themselves, no one was coming. That’s what we learned. No one was coming to help them.
And so they’ve been able to physically free themselves, at least in most of Tigray. But the problem now is there’s no food. All of the roads have been blocked, and the roads have been blocked for a couple of years leading up to this, but the roads have been blocked, so there’s no food in the state of Tigray.
DERAY MCKESSON: You said there were 10 regional governments. What are the nine other people doing? Are they watching it happen? Are they upset about it? Are they like what’s up?
MILLETE: It’s a mixed reaction. So a couple of things. The information is so controlled we used to have state run media in Ethiopia, they’ve kicked out most of the foreign journalists. So I would argue, and this might be unpopular, but I would argue that most people don’t know the full extent of what’s happening in Tigray who are in Ethiopia. And I’m not making excuses for them, because they should know. They could Google, they can look stuff up. But that’s one thing. There’s a huge disinformation campaign from the government themselves about what’s actually happening in Tigray, so that’s a big problem. And then you have some people who are warmongers. You have certain tribal groups who are warmongers, and have some kind of beef with the Tigrayans who were the predominant party in the former government. And so they’re like, who cares? You get what you get kind of attitude.
And so, and then you have some people who are speaking up. I would argue that the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, the Oromo are pretty divided. And because they’ve been historically oppressed, and were violently conquered and brought in to Ethiopia, they have a different perspective. And so a number of the Oromo community have been advocating to end the Tigray genocide essentially, and have been by our side. So it’s been a real mixed reaction, and actually it’s good that you asked that, because that’s actually been a real troubling thing for us, especially in the diaspora. Because as Tigrayans, we always consider ourselves Ethiopian. We didn’t consider ourselves Tigrayan first. We were Ethiopian first. And what this has taught us is that Ethiopians see us as Tigrayans first.
And so there are people who I organized with to get Obama elected, at our cafe. We work to help elect, get progressive candidates in office. And people that I’ve worked side by side with on Black Lives Matter issues, turn around now and deny everything that’s happening. And won’t speak up for our families, and won’t stand by us when we’re protesting. I mean, we’re out in the streets, in a different city, a different state pretty much every other week since this started. And we can’t get non Tigrayan Ethiopians to join us. And so it’s been real eye opening, you know that identity crisis I think that a lot of Tigrayans are having now is like being an enemy of your state because of your ethnic identity. Being a target of the state.
DERAY MCKESSON: Who is the biggest pressure on Ethiopia? Who has the juice?
MILLETE: I would say the United States. I would say the United States. And so what’s happened in the last couple of years, and especially now, the economy has been declining. So this prime minister really doesn’t know, he doesn’t have what it takes to run a country, doesn’t have the experience. It’s been a disaster. Inflation has continued to rise, business has continued to feel. It’s a bad situation in Ethiopia, even much worse than it was which led him into the position that he’s in. And so now the United States having sanctioned Ethiopia, and sanctioned some of the top leaders, it’s made it even more worse. And I think the Europeans are following, and so I would say the money, the purse is definitely having a big impact on what’s happening in Ethiopia.
But Russia has come to the rescue. So Russia is now backing the prime minister, and is–
DERAY MCKESSON: Wait. Russia’s backing the prime minister? I thought we didn’t like this guy?
MILLETE: Russia is backing the prime minister of Ethiopia.
DERAY MCKESSON: Oh I thought Russia was helping the people out, OK. come on Russia.
MILLETE: No, no Russia is not helping the Tigrayans, Russia has come to help the prime minister of Ethiopia. Abiy Ahmed. And so there’s a number of things going on. There are natural resources that have recently come to light, especially in the Tigray region, so let’s not underplay that. In terms of Shell oil, gold, sapphire that kind of stuff. So you know that plays a role in this. Canada has a bunch of permits that they’ve taken out to do some mining in Tigray, which has largely been untouched. And so I’m sure natural resources are playing a role in this. The fact that you have a prime minister now that’s opening up the Ethiopian economy. One of the criticisms of the past regime was that everything was closed off to the international world so literally things were state owned.
If you wanted to build or own land in Ethiopia you had to partner with an Ethiopian. So there were all these things in place that were not as beneficial for foreign investors. And so now you have this darling of the West, Abiy Ahmed, who came in and literally just opened everything up, and started selling national assets like the telecom, and privatizing things. Which was needed by the way, things needed to be privatized. But they could have been privatized to Africans, not to foreigners. There’s all of this foreign interest in the Horn of Africa, and they’ll say the stability of the horn of Africa, but it’s really the control over what’s happening in the Horn.
And don’t forget the water issues with the Nile, and damming the Nile. And now Egypt and Sudan have partnered and have some controversy with Ethiopia, over who should control the Nile water. And so there’s a lot that’s happening in the region. And the people are dying as a result, are an afterthought of all of this.
DERAY MCKESSON: What can people do?
MILLETE: There’s a number of things that people can do. First of all, I want to kind of humanize this and bring it back down and tell you that these are literal families. You know what I mean, this isn’t some group of people far away that no one knows, it’s literally– in the last famine, I lost my great grandmother Fatim to starvation. I didn’t even learn that until now, when the talks of a made famine were coming back. And actually we’re in a made famine right now in Tigray, because the government won’t allow food agencies, the World Food Program to deliver food into Tigray right now. So they’re blocking the roads.
They’re having to do airdrops. I mean it’s insane that we’re even having this conversation. But I lost my great grandmother in the last famine, and now my grandmother, my kid’s great grandmother is in Tigray. Is she hungry is she starving does she have anything to eat? I don’t know. Has she been attacked by soldiers? Has she been looted? I mean, we can’t even reach our families to ask these very basic questions. I know that I’ve lost at least nine family members up until this point, including a cousin who was headed for Eritrean soldiers in Adwa.
So I have a young cousin also in Tigray who was raped by an Eritrean soldier and is now pregnant. And that might sound like oh a one off thing, but it’s not. There are so many women now who have been raped and gang raped and are now carrying their rapist’s babies. And so for a state like Tigray, and a country like Ethiopia that claims to be very pious, where abortion is largely unheard of or done secretly, you have all these women who are coming out to say, I don’t want this baby. And it’s sad on so many different levels, because for the woman, who maybe didn’t even believe in abortion, and now she’s in that situation where she is demanding an abortion, can she even get access? There’s no electricity, there are no hospitals medicine has been looted, everything’s been destroyed. So can she even safely get one?
For the babies that will either be aborted, or that will be born and not wanted now. I mean, what’s happening to the women is so severe and so awful, that it warrants everyone’s attention. Everyone’s attention. This is a human issue. I just want to bring it back down to that, because as a Tigrayans I haven’t slept in 226 days, wondering what’s happening to my family, and what’s happening to the girls and what’s happening to these women? And people try and distract and tell you things like Oh these are terrorists, they’re traitors, they attacked a national base, and I’m like step back from that for a minute. There are no two sides to rape, there are no two sides to starvation, there are no two sides to genocide, so stop.
Whatever those political things are, whatever those conversations are, let’s have those conversations. But there is no way you can justify what’s happening to the people in Tigray right now. You know we’ve been attacked since we’ve come out and called out our friends who are not Tigrayans. I mean I’m telling you DeRay I get text messages, threats, like Oh I’m going to come for you people, know where my business is. They’ll text me the first four digits of my address on my house. In other words I know where you live. And I’m like you’re raping elderly women. So what could you do to me, what could be worse than that? Come to my house, you know what I mean.
So I don’t say that with bravado, but I’m just saying what could be worse than what you’re doing to the people in Tigray? What could you possibly do to me? So what can people do? We need people number one to be educated on what’s happening, #tigraygenocide. It’s that easy. You could learn more than you ever thought just by looking at that hashtag. Follow some of these leaders who are, and they’re largely young people, who are advocating fighting for their families. You can go to, there’s a website, Tigrayactioncommittee.com, where there are lots of action items from. You can tweet, text or whatever it’s called.
You can contact your legislators, there are petitions you can sign. There are Tigrayan led organizations that you can donate to, contribute to. We’ve had celebrities come out, we had Erykah Badu come out and talk about this, and say, I don’t care. Because they come for you, once you start talking about this, other Ethiopians will come for you, and they’ll probably come for you too, and say you’re helping these terrorists. And she just flat out came out and said women are being raped, what are you talking about?
You know what I mean, and to be able to say stop. Stop and look at what’s happening, and that was huge just sharing her platform, you sharing your platform right now, we need more of these conversations. We need more people to pay attention. We need to demand an end to a made famine, because millions of people will die. And it’s hard for people to think of millions of people in big numbers, but I’m talking about my grandmother, I’m talking about my cousins. I’m talking about– if you know a Tigrayan, there is not one single Tigrayan who hasn’t been impacted, either from a rape within their family, a death within their family. Not being able to reach their family.
It’s the largest and probably most hidden conflict in the world right now, not my words. People who follow genocides, this is their words. And rape is the signature of this genocide.
DERAY MCKESSON: Is there a website people can go to for more information?
MILLETE: Yes. Tigrayactioncommittee.com.
DERAY MCKESSON: Well we consider you a friend of the Pod, I have learned more in this last 30 minutes than everything I’ve read online, so thank you. Can’t wait to have you back.
MILLETE: Thank you. Appreciate you.
DERAY MCKESSON: Well that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning in to Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out, make sure to rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple Podcasts, or somewhere else. And we’ll see you next week.
Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media, it’s produced by Brock Wilbur, and mixed by Bill Lancz. Executive producer Jessica Cordova Kramer and myself special Thanks to our weekly contributors, Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger and Samuel Sinyangwe