Our Body Politic

February 26, 2021: Senator Elizabeth Warren on what an economy should do, how Covid-19 vaccination protects others, and a new book confronts the stigma of intimate partner violence.

Episode Notes

This week, Farai Chideya talks with Senator Elizabeth Warren about why she still pushes for student debt relief and an increased minimum wage, and why she believes these are racial-justice issues. Epidemiologist and Our Body Politic contributor Dr. Kavita Trivedi takes our most pressing questions about Covid-19 vaccinations. Film producer and author Tanya Selvaratnam discusses her new book “Assume Nothing: A Story of Intimate Violence.” Plus, our political roundtable with Errin Haines and special guest Brittany Packnett Cunningham, unpacks the racial resentment behind the aftermath of the January 6th insurrection, CPAC, and Senators’ grilling of the Biden-Harris Cabinet picks.

EPISODE RUNDOWN

0:59 Senator Elizabeth Warren talks about how her personal experience growing up “on the ragged edge of the middle class” informs her view of our current economic structures

6:15 Black and Latinx students are disproportionately impacted by student loan debt, Senator Warren explains, which is why she says debt relief is a racial-justice issue.

12:11 Dr. Kavita Trivedi explains in detail what you need to know about the protection the Covid-19 vaccine provides.

15:39 The decline in Covid cases in the U.S. might be a hopeful sign as we aim for herd immunity, Dr. Trivedi says.

22:06 Tanya Selvaratnam discusses why she wrote her new book, “Assume Nothing: A Story of Intimate Violence.”

25:13 Selvaratnam says she talks about her experience with intimate partner violence to remove the stigma of being a survivor of abuse.

30:41 “Sippin’ the Political Tea” guest Brittany Packnett Cunningham talks about her podcast, UNDISTRACTED.

35:19 Errin Haines talks about the potential significance of Maya Wiley’s candidacy in the New York City mayoral race.

36:04 Haines says the idea of “electability” hampers many minority candidates, including Black women who run for office, but that “electing somebody is what makes them electable!”

37:56 Packnett Cunningham compares the lack of accountability for the January 6th, 2021, insurrection to decisions made in the post-Civil War era.

40:12 “I'm less worried about Donald Trump running for reelection than I am about a kinder, gentler, ready-for-prime-time Donald Trump to run,” Packnett Cunningham says, about why it’s important to hold the former President accountable for his role in the insurrection.

42:28 Packnett Cunningham says the real concern about elections should be around the unprecedented amount of voter suppression bills currently in state legislatures.

44:50 Farai Chideya says fear of revenge from historically oppressed minorities may be a factor in the higher scrutiny several Biden-Harris Cabinet nominees are currently facing in the Senate.

Episode Transcription

Farai Chideya:

Thanks for listening and sharing Our Body Politic. As you know, we're only a few months into this show. We are still evolving, still shaping it and we need lots of input from listeners like you. So I want to ask a small favor. After you listen today, please head over to Apple Podcasts on your phone, tablet, laptop or anywhere you listen and leave us a review. We read those because your ideas matter to us, and thank you.

This is Our Body Politic. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya. We're talking with our public health experts about COVID vaccinations, and diving deep into the minimum wage increase Congress is debating to ease the financial burden of the pandemic.

The Biden-Harris administration is grappling with how different members of the Democratic Party are staking out positions on a proposed increase to the minimum wage and on student loan forgiveness. Senator Elizabeth Warren has been a key voice advocating for policies that benefit lower and middle-income Americans. She tells us how her positions are informed by her own experience growing up, and how that compares with the struggles of working families now. Senator Warren, it is so great to have you with us.

Senator Elizabeth Warren:

And I'm so glad to be here with you.

Chideya:

So let's just jump right in with a bit of family history. You have talked about your early life as being on "the ragged edge of the middle class" and you were the first in your family to graduate from college, I understand. What do you mean by the ragged edge of the middle class?

Warren:

We were one of those families that so wanted to be middle class, wanted to see ourselves as middle class. But we were also one of those families that had a lot of rough patches. My mama was borrowing money from my brother David, who had to paper routes, so that she could buy milk to keep us through to make it to the end of the week. Always counted out every nickel. I still remember she used to scrounge around for change, so she could buy a dollars worth of gas. It was a family that worked hard, played by the rules. But we understood up close and personal that isn't always enough to make it in America.

Chideya:

Yeah. I certainly come from a background that is very similar in a lot of ways. There's an economist, Radhika Balakrishnan, who has talked about the idea of what is an economy for. So if she were posing you that question, what is an economy for, what would you say it is now and what should it be?

Warren:

I'd say what an economy should be for is to build opportunity. It's a chance. It doesn't mean everybody's going to end up in exactly the same place. But it is a chance that every child gets a chance, that every person gets a chance. I think that's how we ought to have an economy that works like that, but we don't. And in fact, it's not only that our economy works better for those at the top, it's that that trend has been accelerating. Just going back we're talking about family. After my daddy had a heart attack, my mom got a job at the Sears, minimum wage job answering phones. Minimum wage job kept us alive. But here's the deal, when I was a little girl, a minimum wage job in America would support a family of three. It would cover the mortgage, the utilities, the food, we know this.

Today, a minimum wage full-time job in America will knock a mama and a baby out in poverty. The idea that minimum wage was what got you at least in the kind of onto the ragged edge of the middle class, not anymore. Minimum wage, a mama and baby in poverty. Think of it another way. Who is supporting someone right now to work minimum wage at Walmart or Amazon or any place where they're asking people to work minimum wage? And the answer is, a chunk of that is being supported by the taxpayers. In other words, Walmart or Amazon gets to pocket more profits. And the way they do it is they hire at minimum wage knowing that it won't support a family.

And that in fact, the stories long circulated that Walmart, actually, there were people who would just hand out your application for SNAP benefits, for food, for Medicaid, all of those are paid for by the taxpayers. We upped the minimum wage, and that means taxpayers pay less, families are more economically secure, and Walmart has to actually pay a wage that puts money in people's pockets enough that they can survive.

Chideya:

Let's turn to the question of student loan forgiveness. President Biden was in a CNN townhall where he was asked about forgiveness at a $50,000 level. And he said directly, "I will not make that happen." What's your perspective on the issue and what you're championing?

Warren:

We've got 43 million Americans today who are shouldering about one and a half trillion dollars of student loan debt. These folks need relief. About 40% of them don't have a college diploma. These are folks who tried, and God bless them. But life happens. They had babies, somebody got sick, they lost a job, the commute was too hard, and they weren't able to finish. So they're trying to manage a student loan payment on what a high school graduate makes. And for people of color, for African-Americans, the student loan debt problem is even worse.

Black students have to borrow more money to go to school, borrow more money while they're in school, and have a harder time paying it when they get out of school. Same thing is also true for Latinx students. This is a racial justice issue, it is an economic justice issue, and it's a get our economy going issue. Because all of these young people who are struggling with student loan debt, that's money that they could put back into the economy, it's money they could use to buy homes, it's money they could use to start small businesses. This is a win-win-win if we cancel out $50,000 of student loan debt.

Chideya:

You mentioned that this is a racial justice issue. And Heather McGee, the author of The Sum of Us is going to come on our show at a later date. And she has essentially made an argument that basically, when white Americans benefit from government policy, it's a lot easier to get past than when a multiracial group of Americans do it. So you had a lot more support for educational cost when it was a much larger proportion of white Americans getting educated. Do you believe that race plays into the math in that way over educational debt?

Warren:

The data are just unmistakable here. Race has played into every system in America. In education, in housing, in wealth, in criminal justice. What's so important right now on student loan debt is that the President of the United States by himself, not let's get people in Congress and so on, by himself with the stroke of a pen could close the Black/white wealth gap among those with student loan debt by 25 points. That would just be historic.

Chideya:

And for my last question, I just want to ask about where we go from here in terms of the responsibility of the finance sector. You proposed the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. How do you view The role of something like consumer protection and scrutiny of the financial industry as we, hopefully, one day exit the pandemic? There are a lot of people whose lives have been completely upended. There's been innumerable changes to how we work, where we work, and the entire structure of the labor economy. What do you want to see happen in terms of giving people a shot at emerging from this hole?

Warren:

That is a really terrific question to be looking ahead on this. Look, we're going to need multiple parts here. We're going to need a strong consumer agency so people aren't getting cheated as we come out of this on their various financial products. We're also going to need to put some real money in so that when the moratorium on foreclosures and evictions is lifted, people aren't just smacked with thousands, tens of thousands of dollars in past due rent or past due mortgage payments. And the third part we've got to do is we've got to keep the focus on working families. This recovery is often described as K-shape, meaning half the recovery, like the top half of the K, the billionaires have done great.

The 660 billionaires in America have made over a trillion dollars in additional profits over the last year. But the bottom half of the cave, the one that slopes down, working families all across this nation, the best estimate is unemployment rates are at about 20%, people are truly suffering and it's going to get worse. So we really need to be pushing on the things that help build up our economy and create opportunity for everyone. Raising the minimum wage, you bet. Universal childcare, so that mamas and daddies can go back to work and have childcare, good childcare paid for.

Universal pre-K so every one of our babies gets a real chance going forward. Universal. Technical school to your college for your college, so that after President Biden cancels student loan debt, we don't just mire another generation in student loan debt. We need to keep our focus on opportunity, opportunity for working families, opportunity not just for a handful at the top, but opportunity for everyone.

Chideya:

Senator, thank you so much for joining us.

Warren:

Thank you for having me.

Chideya:

That was Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. 

Like you, we've got plenty of questions about what's happening with the pandemic and here is a big one. Say that I get fully vaccinated, both shots, what can I start doing differently, if anything? I put that question to Dr. Kavita Trivedi, she's an epidemiologist and Our Body Politic contributor. First off, Dr. Trivedi pointed out that the vaccines we have available now are extremely effective.

Dr. Kavita Trivedi:

When you are vaccinated, that fully protects you from hospitalization due to COVID, death due to COVID, and severe disease from COVID. If you are vaccinated and you want to interact with someone else who is vaccinated, we think that is probably completely safe, because you both are not likely to transmit the virus, insignificant amounts to each other, and therefore then have a poor outcome from the disease, and you're protected. So we think two vaccinated people can interact in pre pandemic ways; indoors without a mask eating together, you know, those things we used to do before.

Chideya:

Still, no vaccine is perfect and it's possible to get a mild or asymptomatic infection and pass it on to others who are not vaccinated, even if you've been vaccinated. Dr. Trivedi says, you have to consider who's in your bubble.

Trivedi:

I would say that two vaccinated people can be as close together as two spoons in a drawer, except for the scenario where one of the vaccinated people interacts in their bubble at home, in their household with somebody who is not yet vaccinated, and is at risk for a poor outcome from COVID-19. I think in that scenario two vaccinated people could still interact with masks and with distancing.

Chideya:

Then there's another reason public health officials are saying you should still wear a mask in public.

Trivedi:

When you're vaccinated, you don't know who else is vaccinated around you all the time. So when you interact with people in your community, at the grocery store, in a restaurant, they may or may not be vaccinated, and they may also still be interacting with other people that are vulnerable to a poor outcome from the infection, so this is the main reason why we still want people that are vaccinated to mask and distance.

Chideya:

I had lots more questions for Dr. Trivedi, and thankfully she was game to answer them. Welcome Dr. Trivedi.

Trivedi:

Hi Farai, it's nice to be back. 

Chideya:

We just hit this tragic milestone and here's a clip of president Joe Biden from early in the week.

Joe Biden:

Today, we mark a truly grim heartbreaking milestone: 500,071 dead.

Chideya:

So I want to take a minute, Dr. Trivedi, to just ask about the impact this has had not just on everyone, but the healthcare system and healthcare workers themselves?

Trivedi:

It's been really tough. I think healthcare professionals have been really disheartened with the number of people in our communities that have not heated public health messaging around masking and distancing. Getting to this half a million mark feels hard because it really does feel like D-Day in our battle against this virus.

Chideya:

There is some good news, which is that cases have been dropping fast, now less than 65,000 cases per day, compared to a quarter of a million at the beginning of January. First of all, can we reasonably expect this to last while these variants are coming in? Is this a lull or is this something permanent?

Trivedi:

No, I think that this drop in cases is certainly positive and brings a lot of hope. If we estimate that around 110 million people have been infected in the United States, and we add to that around 44 million people, who've been vaccinated to some extent, we are then talking about a substantial number of the population that has some immunity to the virus. I think also we are going into a season where we have less holidays, big holidays to be concerned about, and maybe also it's having more adherence to public health recommendations of public health measures. In 2021, we have seen a more consistent message from the federal government. We have seen politicians that are wearing masks in public, even after they're vaccinated, so having a consistent message may translate into the public better adhering to these public health measures that we have been advocating for since the beginning of the pandemic. So I do think there is a lot of hope in looking at these numbers and seeing them go down. We still are not at levels that we were at last summer yet, but we do expect things to continue to move in this direction.

Chideya:

Okay. So Dr. Trivedi, let's end on this question of kids and vaccines. Right now, children under 16 aren't approved to get vaccinated and that's 20% of the population. So any further thoughts on how to treat the kids who will not have the protection of the vaccine rollout?

Trivedi:

So we have two trials that are ongoing with children between the ages of 12 and 17 in the case of the Moderna vaccine and 12 and 15 in the case of the Pfizer vaccine. And we will likely see data from that from those trials in three to six months, I think because we're talking about children, there is going to be more scrutiny on this data, compared to the adult efficacy trials. I think in the meantime, we are still able to attain herd immunity with, without children, without the 20%. if we're talking about between 50 and 70% of the US population needing to be vaccinated or getting the infection and then being immune, we still think that we can achieve that without children. And I think the other point is, children are much better at behavioral interventions than adults are. Children are much better at wearing masks, and we also think that they do this better in schools. And so this leads into why we want to start opening up schools; they're so good at teaching life skills. I mean, that's what schools do. And so we want them to do that in the context of the pandemic in order to keep children safer, even outside of a vaccine.

Chideya:

Well, Dr. Trivedi, great to have you back.

Trivedi:

It's a pleasure always to talk to you.

Chideya:

That was Dr. Kavita Trivedi, Our Body Politics, health contributor. She's going to help us continue to keep you updated on how to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Here at Our Body Politic, we use the platform Speak to ask listeners like you to call in and share your thoughts with us. The last few weeks we've been asking what you've learned about yourself in the pandemic. And this listener learned they have valuable leadership skills.

SPEAK Caller:

I work at a university in a housing setting, and so the last year has brought a lot of ups and downs, and I was quickly pulled into discussions, and meetings, and conversations where I was able to make decisions, inform folks, lead out on specific items. I take pride in knowing that there were things I tangibly did to make their experience better.

Chideya:

Thank you for calling it in writing. This week we are asking a new question: if you had one hour to talk about one topic affecting your local community with the US Senator for your state, what would you talk about and why to tell us what you think you can call (929) 353-7006, that's (929) 353-7006. Or go to ourbodypolitic.show and scroll down to find a Google forum to respond in writing.

Intimate partner violence or domestic violence impacts one in four women in her lifetime. Recently celebrities like Evan Rachel Wood and FKA twigs have gone public with the ways that they were trapped in abusive relationships. Film producer, and author, Tonya Selvaratnam set out to explore her own story in her new book, ”Assume Nothing: A Story of Intimate Violence.” In the memoir Selvaratnam recounts the abuse she suffered at the hands of then New York state attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, while they were dating in 2016 and 2017.

Then in 2018, Selvaratnam and three other women came forward in a New Yorker article about Schneiderman's patterns of abuse. In a statement to the New Yorker at the time Schneiderman denied assaulting anyone. He said he did engage in role-playing and other consensual sexual activity in intimate relationships, then he resigned as New York Attorney General, just three hours after the investigation was published. Later, he apologized to Selvaratnam and others who came forward and said that he'd spent time in a rehab facility. The story Selvaratnam tells is one of power structures and a public facing figure who was very different behind closed doors, but it's also a universal story for anyone who has experienced abuse, or who has supported someone who has.

Tanya, thank you for coming on Our Body Politic.

Tanya Selvaratnam:

Thank you Farai.

Chideya:

So in this book, you really are so vulnerable about your own journey with intimate violence. What did it take for you to tell this story? How did you come to realize that this was a task you could take on? Because a lot of people never talk about situations like the one you lived through.

Selvaratnam:

I was inspired to write the book because I had so many people, friends and strangers who reached out to me after my story of abuse became public in 2018 in the New Yorker magazine. And they were sharing their own stories of abuse. And in the case of friends, some of them I've known for decades, but we had never talked about these experiences with each other, and I wrote the book in part to take the shame and the stigma out of being a victim and a survivor. I also wrote my way out of the darkness.

Chideya:

Mm-hmm. Well, we are both storytellers and we have known each other for 30 years now. How do you make sense now from the vantage point of where you are, of what you went through and you've talked about the insidious way that women end up in cycles of abuse?

Selvaratnam:

I was shocked when I got out of the abusive relationship. I wasn't prepared for my path to intersect with an abuser. I wasn't prepared for the grooming, gas lighting, and manipulation. And I walk the reader through the stages that I went through to get into an abusive relationship, so that they can understand those stages and spot them in their own lives. But it also helped me understand why I didn't leave. Victims are often asked, "Why didn't you leave?" And the people who ask them those questions are criticized, but for me, it was important to answer that question for myself, so that I could excavate the fractures that I needed to heal. And those fractures go back to high school. Millions of people experience abuse before they turn 18, so my hope is that high school students read this book.

Chideya:

Let's go back into the hard parts, and then back out into the light. You have a line here. "Eric was so skilled at abusing me that I thought I was responsible for it." What do you mean by that line?

Selvaratnam:

When we first met, which was in 2016 at the Democratic National Convention, it started like a fairy tale. It felt too good to be true that this powerful, charismatic man was paying a lot of attention to me, that we had overlapping interests. We both were advocates of progressive causes. He was publicly known and we both had an interest in meditation and spirituality. So when he first slapped me, it happened in the flash of an eye. It felt like he was testing me, but then over time, the slaps got harder, and were accompanied by demands in the sexual context.

Talking about these things, it's so embarrassing, but I also feel that it's important to talk about them, because these micro details are ones that I have discovered, through the people that have reached out to me, others do identify with, and I want to take this shame and the stigma about having experienced these, because I feel a real strength about knowing that I will never tolerate abuse again, in any context. As stinging as the physical violence was, the verbal abuse, the coercive control, watching what I ate, how I dressed, how I did my hair, gradually he broke me down.

And in Eric Schneiderman's case, he'd customized the abuse for his victims. So I was the only dark-skinned woman of the girlfriends who participated in the New Yorker story, and of the women who reached out to me after the New Yorker story, who had also been abused by him, and I was not aware of them before. I was the only one who was not white. And in the abuse he inflicted on me, he wanted me to call him "master," and I was his slave. And he had fantasies about me being a brown girl that he found far away to bring back home. I mean, it was flat out racist, and that was equally shocking to me, that he was a publicly facing feminist and progressive, but private facing, he abused me.

Chideya:

So to know that all of this is happening with a man who is, at the time, the New York State Attorney General, and who has access to all these systems of power, to the political party he belongs to, to law enforcement, to the courts, what did it take for you to want to come forward with this as you did?

Selvaratnam:

It made my options dwindle. All roads led to him, because he was the top law enforcement officer in New York State. I had been scared for my physical safety. I was also scared about my career and reputation. I had no intention of coming forward when I first was out of the relationship, which was in early October of 2017. But very shortly after that is when the Me Too movement began, and I felt these waves crash around me when those Harvey Weinstein stories broke, and I decided that the best route for me to take would be investigative journalism.

Chideya:

It strikes me, and this is kind of me backing into our last question, it strikes me that having people around you who keep it real has to be harder than ever during the pandemic for victims of intimate violence. I've really been looking at some of the data, which it's probably in and of itself not telling the whole story, and we may never get the whole story of how the pandemic has affected that. But what message, if there's someone who happens to be listening to the show who is either in a state of knowing that they are a victim of intimate violence, or worrying if what they are going through is qualifying it, what do you say to that person? Take us out with that.

Selvaratnam:

You're not alone. You're not crazy, and there are organizations that can help you. Don't be ashamed. Don't be afraid to share your story. You are one of millions. We are a large community of victims and survivors. So many people get stuck in abusive relationships because they don't have the resources, financial or otherwise, to get out. And so my message to people who know loved ones in abusive relationships, be that lifeline for them.

Chideya:

Tanya, thank you so very much.

Selvaratnam:

Thank you, Farai.

Chideya:

That was Tanya Selvaratnam, author and film producer. Her book is Assume Nothing: A Story of Intimate Violence, and it's out now.

Chideya:

Now it's time for Sipping the Political Tea, our weekly round table that goes through all things politics in the news. This week, I'm joined by Our Body Politic contributor, Errin Haines, Editor at Large at The 19th. Welcome, Errin.

Errin Haines:

Thanks, Farai.

Chideya:

And we have got a special guest, Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Brittany is an educator, writer, organizer, a fellow at Harvard's Institute of Politics, and she's an MSNBC and NBC News contributor. She's also a fellow podcaster. She co-hosted Pod Save the People for three years and she now hosts this incredible news and justice podcast called UNDISTRACTED.  You absolutely have to listen. You got a lot of credentials, Brittany. Welcome.

Brittany Packnett 

Cunningham:

Thank you for having me. I'm so glad to talk to you.

Haines:

All the jobs, all the hats. Brittany, listen, why don't you tell us yourself what your biggest focus is these days. Let's first of all start by celebrating your most recent interview on UNDISTRACTED. 

Ayanna Pressley:

The squad is big, y'all. It is the movement that ensured the decisive election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. It is a movement that showed out twice in Georgia. 

Haines:

So that of course is representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. Brittany, tell us about it, and tell us what else is on your mind.

Packnett Cunningham:

I mean, what's not to love about Ayanna Pressley? She is incredible and authentic, and I'm in love with anybody who says policy is their love language, because she understands so clearly that it's not just about warm and fuzzy rhetoric, but that it is actually about empowering and impactful policy and real change. So I absolutely loved interviewing her. We've had folks kind of from all over the spectrum. We've had politicians like her. We've had artists like Tracy Ellis Ross and America Ferrera, but our viewpoint is always to figure out how we build the largest army of un-distracted people possible.

We borrowed the name of the podcast from Toni Morrison, when she talked about the function of racism being to distract you, to keep you from doing your work. So what will it look like and what can we accomplish if we stay focused and keep doing our work? So really that's what I'm obsessed with all the time. I'm trying to create a world where everybody can thrive, especially the most marginalized, especially Black girls like us. And so I am obsessed with anything that stands in the way of that. I'm obsessed with eradicating it, and I'm obsessed with building the systems and institutions and spaces that allow us to thrive.

Haines:

Well, Brittany, you're absolutely in the right place, because Our Body Politic is 100% in favor of every single thing that you were talking about.

Packnett Cunningham:

I know. The good stuff is happening here.

Haines:

Exactly. Well, listen, what about you, Farai? What's on your mind?

Chideya:

You know, I've been thinking a lot about the relationship of white Americans to this moment in history. Meaning right now, I really feel like it's a save your own life moment for white America. I don't think a lot of white Americans have realized how much anti-Black racism leads to domestic terrorism and leads to declines in the economy. So for example, in the news industry, which I do a lot of media criticism, there's a lot of threat signaling about the threat of Blackness, but we don't think about the ways in which anti-Blackness is a much bigger and deeper threat. So that's what's on my mind.

Haines:

Well, listen, I got to tell you guys. In terms of what I've been thinking about this week, we hit the unfortunate and very grim and very terrible milestone of half a million Americans who have perished in the almost year since this pandemic first hit our country. And while that certainly was a difficult day, I think for our country, it was a day that was marked by the new President, the new Vice President, and we were able to have kind of a moment of collective grief as a nation, which is not something that I think has happened nearly enough to be able to try to grapple with this as a country, to try to get back to kind of that initial idea around this pandemic, of the thought that maybe we're all in this together, really felt like a bit of light in what is hopefully the dark period before things really start to get better, and we move to the other side of this.

Chideya:

Yup. Absolutely.

Haines:

Look, y'all know I love talking about what Black women's political leadership looks like, what it can look like. And so with that, I want to hop over to New York City with a mayoral hopeful, Maya Wiley, who just had a profile in The Cut. Rebecca Traister wrote it, and I encourage folks to read it if they haven't seen it. I found it very fascinating and learned a lot about her. But let's listen to this clip from this mayoral hopeful.

Maya Wiley:

This is our journey, and it would be my great honor to travel that road, hand in hand with people of our city, as your next mayor. Now, some will say I don't sound like past mayors, or look like them, or think like them. And I say, "Yes, I don't. That is the point."

Haines:

So Wiley recently got an endorsement from 1199, the city's biggest union. Farai, how much of a game changer is this for her?

Chideya:

It's huge. I mean, I think that it also points out that progressives aren't always what they appear to be. And what I'm referring to there is that the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, has been roundly criticized for any number of things. His handling of the schools in New York. New York is the most segregated city educationally, on and on and on. And I think that Wiley, she is someone who's trying to redefine what it means to be a progressive New York City mayor. She didn't qualify for public matching funds, so I think that this in particular important as a validator. There's so many different types of validators in politics, and so I'm looking forward to seeing how things unfold.

Haines:

Yeah. I think you make a really good point about the matching funds, because, at The 19th, we certainly talk a lot about electability, right? And what makes somebody electable. And as far as we're concerned, it's electing somebody is what makes them electable. That's the criteria, right? But we know the kind of barriers and hurdles that Black women seeking public office in particular can face in terms of fundraising to get that early support to be viable, right? And that field of folks who is looking to be the next mayor of New York is already beginning to get quite crowded, but it is remarkable to me to think about in 2021, that New York City, one of the iconic cities of this country, has never had a Black woman mayor. Maybe she's the one to do it. I don't know, but I'm certainly very interested to see what happens in that contest.

So I want to turn now to a topic we've been talking about here at Our Body Politic for the past few weeks, and that is obviously the aftermath of the events of January 6 and the insurrection. So let's talk about the latest. Authorities are saying that there was a wider conspiracy that led to the storming of the capital. More defendants have been added to the list of those already charged. Brittany, you talked about the investigations happening about this with Representative Ayanna Pressley on your podcast. Let's take a listen.

Ayanna Pressley:

This is as much about accountability as it is prevention, because Donald J. Trump needed to be not only held accountable, but barred from running for public office ever again. And so we also know that Donald J. Trump is not the only culpable person, that he had many accomplices who aided and abetted in the perpetuating of this big lie.

Haines:

Yeah. So, Brittany, what do you make of further investigations? Is it going to be enough to do the prevention that Representative Pressley talks about?

Packnett Cunningham:

I don't know if it's going to be enough, but that doesn't mean it's not necessary. The past is always prologue, and we are leaving the aftermath of what happened when there was no accountability all the way back to the Civil War. I mean, If Jefferson Davis, of all people, who literally created a seceded set of States to separate themselves from the formerly United States, if somebody like that does not even stand trial for treason, and why, because people wanted to unify the country, it's a very familiar rhetoric. If somebody like that can't stand trial for treason, if people like Confederate soldiers are pardoned, if people like enslavers are pardoned and able to retain their property, including the land that they turned their formerly enslaved people into sharecroppers on, then it is impossible not only to hold them accountable, but to prevent the romanticizing of the atrocities that they performed. And we are living in the aftermath of that. We are living in that reality and experiencing the cost of that every single day.

That is how you can see the Confederate flag re-emerge as what some people think to be a legitimate symbol of heritage. That's how you see a reemergence in Neo white supremacy and Neo Nazi-ism. That's how you are able to see the creation of a KU Klux Klan, and later a Proud Boys, and later the election of a Donald J. Trump. So we know what it means to not hold folks accountable for their white supremacist fascism and pay for it down the road. And we have the chance right now to decide that that's not what we're going to do, that we're not going to repeat history like that. Unfortunately, the Senate did not do what needed to be done. Republicans in the Senate didn't do what needed to be done. But at the very least, naming the names and holding them accountable, and naming all of the names and not just some, it has to be the way forward. Because anything less puts us at even greater risk for a revisiting of the tragedies that we've experienced over the last four years.

And I want to be really clear. I'm less worried about Donald Trump running for reelection than I am about a kinder, gentler, ready for prime time Donald Trump to run.

Haines:

Preach.

Packnett Cunningham:

Who may be a person of color, who may be a woman, who may be more palatable for modern audiences but still holds all of the same dangerous views. And let's be clear, is more effective at turning those dangerous views into policy because they are not as polarizing, because they don't walk around with as much vitriol. If we can't even hold somebody like Trump accountable, what happens when we've got a friendlier Trump ready to run in 2024?

Haines:

Yeah. And also why it's just so important to leave behind an honest and accurate record of what happened, not just on January 6th but the climate that led up to January 6th. And the climate that, frankly, we are still very much in as a country. 

I want to talk about something that's happening this week in Orlando, and that is CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference.  I think we were wondering as a political press corps, as a country, what former president Donald Trump’s  post-presidency was going to look like, what kind of platforms was he going to be on now that he obviously has been deplatformed from Twitter. But Donald Trump will be,  he was invited as the main speaker at CPAC. And so Brittany, I'm wondering what you make of their continued focus on the baseless claim that the 2020 elections were stolen. I mean, the theme of this conference is ‘America Uncanceled.’ And how should the media be covering this?

Packnett Cunningham:

This is par for the course. And what I found fascinating is the people who are determined to, I think there's a hashtag, reclaim the GOP. As if they have not always been the party of Make America Great Again, as if that was not Ronald Reagan slogan before it was Donald Trump's slogan.

Haines:

Absolutely, yeah.

Packnett Cunningham:

And so I think it's going to be up to the public, and most certainly the media, to make sure that these hairs are not falsely split. The supposed stealing of the election not only reeks of desperation, but it is cover for what is happening in state legislatures all around the country. And now that your home state of Georgia, Errin, I wont say flipped blue, but I will say fought to be blue, state lawmakers are posing an unprecedented amount of new voter suppression bills. So they are doing everything that they can to make sure that their state is not the next Georgia.  And in order to do that, they have to create the perception that the election was stolen and therefore all of these state bills are to protect against any further theft of the election.

The media should be focusing on the very clear fact that voter fraud is not real, but voter suppression is very real. And if that is not leading all of your coverage of the GOP, if that is not leading all of your coverage of the midterms, if that is not leading all of your coverage on politics, you're doing it wrong.

Chideya:

Let me just drop something in, which is we have to also understand that there is an active disinformation campaign to discredit what a multiracial democracy is. And we in the media have not done a good job of being a force for good, in that sense. And so  there would not be the level of widespread discussion about a putatively stolen election, which was not stolen at all, unless some of us in the media were complicit.

Haines:

Yeah. And frankly, as somebody who is a Georgia native, who has seen folks arguing for a need to protect voter integrity as solution in search of a problem, I think folks who understand the racial history of politics in this country are better equipped to talk about that, and to talk about what 21st century voter suppression looks like. And it must be called out, just to Brittany's point, each and every time that it is surfacing, wherever it is doing that.

But listen, we do actually have a new administration that has been in office here for a little over a month, and so we should take a moment to talk about the Biden Harris administration's cabinet nominees. Many of them who are people of color, that are facing a level of scrutiny that their white male counterparts are not. Farai, what is this about?

Chideya:

Well, it's about business as usual. And I honestly, I don't know why I'm still surprised. I'm surprised by some of the people who were being picked apart. So I'm focusing on Representative Deb Haaland, because I think there's a bigger story there.

Haines:

Yeah.

Chideya:

A long arc of history. I'm one of those many Americans who learned nothing about Native Americans in school, and I mean elementary through the end of college at Harvard University. I learned nothing. And the more that I have researched the way that the US Government flouted its own treaties and its own regulations, like aside from who owned this land period, we, and I'm using the American we, which I am, not that I co-sign on everything, but the American we said you can take this land, we'll take this land. Which again, I'm just setting that all aside. And then to, oh, just kidding. We said you can keep this part of the land, but you can't because we want it now. And that's what is driving the fear of Representative Deb Haaland. It's like there's this deep fear of revenge, fear that I think that a lot of policy is driven by this fear of Black revenge for slavery and Native American revenge for genocide. It's like, we just want to live our lives.

Haines:

Right. Brittany, do you have anything to add?

Packnett Cunningham:

What is telling here that I want to tease out more is something that Farai mentioned about the assumed revenge play, right? I am past the point of believing everyone's surprise when they become confronted with just how deep oppression goes. You can watch that old video of Jane Elliott, the white educator, asking a room full of white people to raise their hands if they want to be treated like Black people in this country, and nobody puts their hands up. So she's like, you know what's going on, you just don't actually want to do anything about it because it benefits you.

And if folks know the incredibly oppressive systems and structures that have continued to exist, and continue to actively and materially harm the very people who represent communities who are now going up for these cabinet positions, then they're absolutely consciously and subconsciously going to be worrying that suddenly policymakers are going to be in positions of power, and they're going to make policy that doesn't include them. 

Haines:

Phew, time flies when you're sipping the tea. We're going to have to wrap it up here, ladies, but thank you so much for joining us this week, Brittany.

Packnett Cunningham:

Thank you for having me. It's always good to chat with you all. And I'm so grateful for the way that you all keep shining the light of truth.

Haines:

Well keep it up over there at UNDISTRACTED too. It was nice to chat with you, as always, Farai.

Chideya:

Oh, it was great. I think the three of us should run for co-president.

Packnett Cunningham:

Same.

Chideya:

Thanks, Erin.

Haines:

All right, take care y'all.

Chideya:

That was Errin Haines, Editor at large at the 19th, and also our special guest Brittany Packnett Cunningham, who is all the things. She is an MSNBC and NBC news contributor, and runs the incredible podcast you must check out UNDISTRACTED. 

Thank you so much for joining us on Our Body Politic. We're on the air each week and everywhere you listen to podcasts. Our Body Politic is produced by Lantigua Williams & Co. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya. Juleyka Lantigua Williams is executive producer. Paulina Velasco is senior producer. Jen Chien is executive editor. Cedric Wilson is lead producer and mixed this episode. Original music by associate sound designer Kojin Tashiro. Our producer is Priscilla Alabi. Julie Zan is our talent consultant. Michelle Baker and Emily Daily our assistant producers. Production assistance from Mark Betancourt and Sara McClure.

Funder credits:

Funding for Our Body Politic is provided by Craig Newmark Philanthropies and by the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, empowering world changing-

CITATION:

Chideya, Farai, host. “February 26, 2021: Senator Elizabeth Warren on what an economy should do, how Covid-19 vaccination protects others, and a new book confronts the stigma of intimate partner violence.”  Our Body Politic, Diaspora Farms LLC. February 26, 2021.  https://our-body-politic.simplecast.com/