Our Body Politic

Black Americans Buying Guns, Making Your Voting Plan, and an Inspiring Filipina Filmmaker

Episode Notes

This week Farai Chideya explores Black gun ownership with journalist Trymaine Lee, and takes the pulse of voters in California with Representative Karen Bass. A pediatrician helps us understand how to support kids through the pandemic, and a former Secret Service agent gives us tips for staying safe at the polls. Plus, one writer’s escape to Paris.

Episode Rundown

0:35 Joe Biden’s campaign raised two million dollars after David Perdue’s exaggerated mispronunciation of running mate Kamala Harris’s name.

2:00 Farai talks to journalist Trymaine Lee about the increasing numbers of Black gun owners, a subject he spoke about on his MSNBC podcast Into America.

8:02 Lee talks about the risks associated with being a Black man with a gun. “While America has always been a very violent, very dangerous place, where guns are lionized, guns are worshiped, just not in the hands of Black folks.” Lee says.

8:39 Representative Karen Bass of California talks about voter suppression and encourages everyone to vote this upcoming election.

12:47 Political contributor Errin Haines and Farai talk about all things politics: the significance of having a Black woman moderate a presidential debate, the importance of state races, and Florida’s role in the election.

18:15 In the weekly Covid-19 update: the CDC’s new recommendations for avoiding close contact, the rising death rate for Hispanics, and new research on the low risk of transmitting the virus through breast milk.

20:18 Genevieve Daftary, pediatric medical director at Codman Square Health Center in Boston, says she sees increasing rates and intensity of anxiety, depression, and behavioral dysregulation in children since the start of the pandemic.

26:14 Former Secret Service agent Holli Draines gives advice on how to stay safe and secure at the polls and other public places.

28:09 Draines says you should always know your exits, tell people where you’re going, and if you ever feel unsafe, put time and distance between you and the situation.

31:48 Listeners tell us what’s on their minds with our SPEAK platform.

32:57 Liz Hartley, an investor who is also the co-founder of the group Eleven Three, offers tools that track polling lines and help you plan your voting strategy.

36:01 Filpina filmmaker Isabel Sandoval talks with us about her film “Lingua Franca,” a story about a power struggle that defies the tropes of Hollywood, especially when it comes to portraying trans women.

42:20 In our weekly “Good news:” Barbie addresses systemic racism, HBO announces more Euphoria episodes, and civil rights icon Angela Davis appears in the New York Times Style Magazine.

43:18 Author Audrey Edwards talks about her experience leaving the U.S. for Paris, when Donald Trump was elected in 2016. She talks about the freedom and empowerment she felt in her book American Runaway: Black and Free in Paris in the Trump Years.

Episode Transcription

Farai Chideya:

I'm Farai Chideya and this is Our Body Politic. 

Kristen Welker: We’re going to continue on the issue of race. Mr President, you’ve described...

Donald Trump: Can’t believe that one….

Chideya: We are less than two weeks away from the presidential election. Over 30 million votes have already been cast. One campaign rally inspired an online movement after Trump supporter, Senator David Perdue, mocked VP candidate, Kamala Harris.

David Perdue:

Kamala, or what? Kamala or Kamala. Kamala, mala, mala. I don't know. Whatever!

Chideya: People of color on social media proudly asserted their names and the Biden campaign raised two million dollars in the process. Just another day in a crazy election season, one which may or may not end on Election Day depending on how long it takes to count the mix of mail-in and in-person votes. This week, we explore how women of color can keep personal safety front of mind while showing up at the polls. We'll also talk to a doctor about how to help children in your life cope with the pandemic. And get inspired by a filmmaker backed by Ava DuVernay. Plus, hear from a congresswoman about the state of the country. But, first, let's talk about Black people and guns.

Black gun ownership has increased by 58% this year. I personally have a neighbor... mind you, someone who is friends with people of all races, incomes, and religions in our diverse neighborhood... talk about buying a gun because he fears that Black families like his will be physically attacked after the election or beyond. Analysts report a jump in the volume and proportion of first-time buyers who are women, ethnic minorities, and politically liberal. Already, this year, the FBI has conducted more background checks for prospective firearm buyers than in all of 2019. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Trymaine Lee, delved into the topic in a recent episode of his podcast on MSNBC, Into America. I wanted to know why he wanted to do a deep dive into Black Americans buying and owning guns.

Trymaine Lee:

I think this episode is one of my favorites, certainly. This question of defending yourself in these tough times. Coming after not just George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, but Ahmaud Arbery, I think there was a moment for me, watching that young man be gunned down by two white vigilantes, jogging through a neighborhood... It summoned that feeling of helplessness. No matter what we do, we're always besieged upon.

Chideya: You spoke with a woman named Jeneisha Harris, a 24-year-old activist in Memphis. Talk about her. Her family history, her background. What brought her to... She was at an inflection point in your show about whether or not to arm herself.

Lee: Jeneisha Harris was such an interesting person to talk to because she reminds you of people that you know. A young sister, a young cousin. She's from Memphis, Tennessee originally. Now, a student in Nashville. She's a young activist and she had been pushing and fighting around the Confederate monuments and Confederate statues. And so she became kind of locally known. People would see her on the news and people would kind of rally around in one sense, but also, she became a target for so many others. She started to talk about as her notoriety grew that she'd been in the grocery store or she'd be out in public and people would curse at her and spit on her. And she started to get death threats. She really felt fear for her life. It got to the point where she started to wonder, should I get a gun?

Jeneisha Harris:

I thought I could be another Breonna Taylor. My politics towards guns shifted. I went from being totally anti-gun to a light bulb switching in my head, saying, hey, maybe you do need to be armed.

Chideya: Especially since she's someone who lost her uncle to-

Lee: That's right.

Chideya: ... gun violence.

Lee: Which is the case so often in our communities. We've so often been on the lethal end of firearms. Guns were used to take us. To hurt us. Whether it's from inside the community or outside the community. It was never something that was just like a hobby or a tradition. It was always life and death. For her, the killing of her uncle she loved... she loved him... It shattered a piece of her. For her to get to this point, where she's saying, you know what? After Breonna Taylor's death... She felt, I could be another Breonna Taylor.

Chideya: Yeah. I mean, there's a deep connection that you highlight also evident in Breonna Taylor's death, which is how her boyfriend arming himself was used to justify to some people the police opening fire in her apartment and shooting Breonna dead while she slept in her own bed. Can you talk a little bit more about the decision that Black people face? That owning a weapon does not necessarily not make you safer, even if you're trained in how to use it, even if you're in your own home.

Lee: Wayne LaPierre of the NRA had talked about this idea of good guys with guns. To protect us. Whoever the us... Whoever that group is. The us. From the bad guys. You do it the right way. You go get a permit if that's what's required where you live. You get your license. Legally own this gun. Like Philando Castile, who was gunned down in Minnesota after he told the officer during a stop that he had a weapon. He was shot dead there and his girlfriend and her child had to watch him bleed to death. Good guy. Good guy with a gun. You go to Breonna Taylor's boyfriend. Hears a crash at the door. No announcement. Fires at them, not knowing who it could be. Seemingly, a good guy with a gun. A legal firearm owner. And what he gets in return is a volley of gunshots that takes Breonna Taylor.

To be Black in this country is already, means to be criminalized. To be feared. We've already been, as a Black man especially, this object of fear and scorn and criminalization. But then you throw guns in the mix and that's their worst nightmare. But this idea of freedom and full agency as American citizens means also, to many, exercising that Second Amendment, but obviously, it comes with great consequences often. Because to be Black and armed is to be reviled and feared.

Chideya: How far back does this go into American history? Does this go back to slavery? Does this go back to the early days of the country?

Lee: Well, it was certainly back when we think about the Black codes. When we think about after Reconstruction. Well, first of all, during slavery. By and large, the predominant thing was keep Black folks from getting these guns because, in certain states where Black folks and enslaved people outnumbered whites, that was a cause for concern. I mean, think about Nat Turner. Think about all the... We've been fighting ever since, too. That's the one thing that sometimes we miss in the broader discussions of the Black experience in America. That we've been fighting at every turn and white folks also knew that. So, keep these guns from these Black folks because there might come a time where they might actually demand their freedom.

But certainly after the Civil War and during Reconstruction. Once Black folks started getting rights, they started to clamp down with the Jim Crow laws and Black codes, which meant Black folks couldn't get arms. Even those who came back from fighting in the Civil War. Many of them. Hundreds of thousands of folks who fought in the Civil War had their rifles with them. And so as we go through history, you think about the '40s and the '50s and all the protests and you get to the '60s, where... Open carry was accepted in California until the Black Panther Party was following police with a shotgun in one hand and a law book in the other and then demanding their rights at the Capitol building. The NRA, who was supposed to be a proponent of gun rights, and Ronald Reagan, say, "No, no, no, no, no. That's enough. Enough of that." You start clamping down.

Because, again, the struggle for freedom and liberation has always meant violence. It's just a matter of who's going to be inflicting it upon who and for which ends. And so while America has always been a very violent, very dangerous place, where guns are lionized, guns are worshiped, just not in the hands of Black folks. And I'm not advocating for Black gun ownership, but I do believe that Black folks have come to this point now, where we are at an inflection point. Whether we protect ourselves and our communities and actually exercise the agency as full American citizens. But as you say, do more guns mean less violence or do more guns just mean more violence?

Chideya: Trymaine Lee, correspondent for MSNBC, host of the podcast, Into America, which you have to check out. Thank you so much.

Lee: Farai, thank you.

Chideya: As part of our election coverage, we're inviting legislators and political party leaders from around the nation to talk to us about their priorities. Congress member Karen Bass represents California's 37th district, a very diverse chunk of Los Angeles. A Democrat, she's also the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Representative Bass joins us now. Welcome!

Karen Bass:

Thank you! Thank you for having me on.

Chideya: What is it that you find in your job as a congressional representative to give hope and to give purpose to your work in a time like this?

Bass: Well, to me, everything that we're going through in terms of COVID, whether you are talking about the health impact, the social impact, or the economic impacts, that's what gives me hope. What gives me hope and responsibility is it's my job to figure out how to help the constituents of the 37th district and everybody in this nation get past this crisis that we're in right now. I am extremely hopeful about the election. We're 14 days away from an election that I say is an election that is a matter of life and death because over 200000 people have died and I believe, in a matter of days, it will be up to a quarter of a million. People have died and we have a president that thinks that's just fine. He thinks that we should congratulate him because it wasn't a million people that died. I am very hopeful because of the massive turnout that we're seeing already and that people really understand that Election Day is not November 3rd. That's when the election ends. Election Day is now in most states. And so, in those states where people are eligible to vote early, they need to do that. People have taken that and they understand it and that's why they're out now. That, to me, is so encouraging. It's turnout of historic proportions.

Chideya: Now, although the polls certainly are leaning in the direction of the Biden-Harris ticket, we all know polling is flawed. However, voter suppression, which we've talked a lot about on this show, is widespread and proven. What does it say about the stakes in this election?

Bass: I am very concerned about voter suppression, but what we're seeing around the country, which is so encouraging to me, is everybody understands voter suppression is a concern. People do understand that their health is a concern. And that's why we're seeing the historic turnout. So, I think the overt, extreme ways that the Republicans have gone out trying to suppress the vote has actually energized the vote and I'm very, very excited about that.

Chideya: Last question. What is the most important thing that you think America needs to accomplish after the next election? We are in a time of turmoil on so many levels.

Bass: Without question, the most important thing that we need to accomplish is overcoming and getting control of COVID. No question. The devastating impact in terms of a quarter of a million dead Americans in a matter of eight months... I'm worried that people have accepted it and they're not shocked and outraged and mortified by the fact that we lost a quarter of a million people. We've normalized it. The devastation to the economy. The devastating social and psychological consequences of being held up in your home. The achievement gap that already existed that will be huge between communities of color and white students. That beyond a doubt is the most important thing for us to get ahold of.

Chideya: Representative Bass, thank you so much for joining us.

 Bass: Thank you.

Chideya: That was Congresswoman Karen Bass. You're listening to Our Body Politic.

Welker:  President Trump, people of color are much more likely to live near oil refineries and chemical plants. In Texas, there are families who worry the plants near them are making them sick. Your administration has rolled back regulations on these kinds of facilities. Why should these families give you another four years in office?

Chideya: We are living through a time where political news comes fast and furious. And too keep us on track every week, we've got Our Body Politic contributor, Errin Haines. Haines is editor-at-large at The 19th News and joins me now for Sipping the Political Tea. Welcome, Errin.

Errin Haines:

Thanks for having me back!

Chideya: So, the presidential election is so close, you can smell the sweat.

Haines: You can.

Chideya: The two candidates battled it out in the second debate and tell me the significance you see in Kristen Welker being selected as the moderator and about Carole Simpson, the woman in whose steps she followed. I used to work with Carole.

Haines: Well, that's cool.

Chideya: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Back at ABC Weekend.

 Haines: Well, I will tell you. I tweeted out earlier, it's not enough to have a first if there's never a second. The fact that it's taken nearly three decades for another Black woman to sit in that chair, moderating a presidential debate, is really remarkable. As you mentioned, the first person to do this was the iconic Carole Simpson in 1992. But there's a younger generation that are seeing a Black woman, for the first time since 1992, moderating a presidential debate in a general election and I think that that's a huge deal that should not go unnoticed.

Chideya: There's so much to be watching for these next two weeks, including races for state representatives and senators. Politico said that, quote, “under the radar, low budget contests,” end quote, are being transformed into these high profile, expensive races. Is this now partly filtered through everything being a referendum on the president?

Haines: Well, actually, no. I mean, at the local level, folks are really trying to keep it local, at least on the Republican side, and staying away from President Trump and a lot of what he has been doing at that kind of 30000 foot view. But it's true. State houses do matter. And they are cheaper to win, too, frankly. I mean, I covered the state legislature in Georgia and Virginia and I can tell you that the people's business is absolutely being done in state houses, where you have issues like guns and reproductive health and voter access and LGBTQ rights. These could be issues that are litigated in state houses. And that's to say nothing of redistricting, which is really at the heart of representational government. This election coincides with the redistricting process that is going to be underway for state legislatures. And so having control of a state house, because this is still a largely partisan process, is really going to matter. I think that it's something that is coming into much sharper focus for voters than it does in a normal election cycle.

Chideya: Let's wrap up with a little conversation about Florida. Florida has a massive number of Electoral College votes and the question is, how quickly can absentee votes be counted? There's some talk that maybe Florida actually will be a state that can be called on election night and, if so, that could help shape how the election is called when the election is called. What do we know about Florida? How did it become so important?

Haines: For just that reason that you mentioned. Because it is so rich in Electoral College that it is the path to victory or has been the path to victory for so many presidential candidates over the years. Florida could be one of the places that tell us on election night. I know we keep saying, we probably may not have a decision on election night, but if we do, it will be because of what the margin is in places like Florida.

Chideya: California has the most electoral votes and it reliably goes for the Democratic candidate, at least in recent elections. Texas has the second most and, generally, has been considered reliable for Republicans, but it seems more competitive than last cycle. I'm not saying-

Haines: It is.

Chideya: ... that it's actually competitive, but what about Texas?

Haines: I mean, look. The polls are saying that the president and Vice President Biden are running neck-and-neck in Texas. I don't know how real that is, but this is also... There's another wild card factor with Texas. Not only, obviously, are we all voting in a pandemic... and we are seeing those record lines in Texas with early voting... but Texas is, for the first time, getting away from voting straight ticket on their ballot. And so how will that factor into how elections break down in Texas? Not only at the top of the ticket, but... They have a very lengthy ballot. I don't know if anybody's ever taken a look at the ballot this year for those of you who are not voting in Texas, but don't even know if folks are going to get to the bottom of that ballot because it is so lengthy and there are so many issues on there.

Chideya: Well, Errin, we're going to have to put the second hand on our watches on because it's ticking down. It's always great to talk to you.

Haines: Tick tock, tick tock, Farai. See you next time.

Chideya: The COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately impact communities of color and we continue to cover how these communities are faring and how they can protect themselves. This week, the CDC expanded its definition of a close contact with someone with COVID-19. It now includes anyone who was within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes over a 24 hour period. Daily new cases in the US have averaged more than 60,000 over the past week. The Centers for Disease Control said that infections from small household gatherings are driving the surge and stressed wearing masks and social distancing during upcoming holidays.

Alex Azar:

Cases are increasing and we're seeing this happen because we're getting colder weather and we're losing that natural social distancing that happens from being out of doors and people are getting tired.

Chideya: That was Secretary of Health, Alex Azar, on NBC's Meet the Press. The CDC has also said that the COVID death rate for Hispanics increased over the summer, even as death rates for other groups fell.

Leticia Berber: 

Si estamos mirando un porcentaje mas alto en nuestras comunidades...

Chideya: That's the Health Department spokesperson for Fresno County, California, speaking to the local Univision channel, saying there's a higher percentage of COVID cases and deaths in her community. And a bit of good news. Recent research says it's very unlikely that breast milk from infected mothers contains enough active coronavirus to make babies sick. Mothers like Michelle Agard will be glad to hear that. She told Business Insider that her doctors told not to breastfeed her newborn after testing positive for coronavirus.

Michelle Agard: 

To go through all I worked to pump and get the milk and then have to watch it just go down the drain? It's heartbreaking.

Chideya: Lastly, in vaccine news, Pfizer says it will not be ready to begin clearing its vaccine with the Food and Drug Administration until late November. We'll be keeping an eye on that in the coming weeks. This week, in our public health segment, we're talking about kids and how they're feeling about everything that's going on.

Child 1 :

Pretty sad because the pandemic forces you to stay in your house and there's not a lot of things to do outside.

Child 2:

Sad. Because I wanted to go to school and I wanted to see my friends.

Chideya: We spoke with pediatrician, Dr. Genevieve Daftary. She's the pediatric medical director at Codman Square Health Center in Boston, where public schools recently announced they're returning to online learning after a spike in cases citywide. I asked Dr. Daftary how her patients have been dealing with the pandemic.

Genevieve Daftary: 

I think the first thing we saw that was really concerning was when Massachusetts was in a surge. We just didn't see kids coming into the Health Center. We were suddenly a health center that, even though a third of our population is children, we were basically only taking care of adults. Patients and families were passing up on routine preventative care and staying home. Now that things are relaxing a little bit and kids are back to school, we're needing to catch up on vaccines that we missed and well-child visits that were missed. In those well-child visits, I think we're finding people are suffering with a lot of family stress. Some of that stress is just around basic resources and it's really intense, but it really is just stress. And then I think for a lot of kids and their parents, we're seeing increasing rates and intensity of anxiety and depression and just behavioral dysregulation in some of the younger kids.

Chideya: Your community health center... I used to live in both Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts. You're in a diverse community and a community with some residents who don't have a lot of money. How does the pandemic affect community health centers across the country that are like yours, including your own?

Daftary: So, I think one thing is it's calling upon some of what we do really well, which is recognize and then respond to a lot of the social determinants of health. Right now, those big ones have been housing and food access and employment. As we have seen families either lose work or have hours scaled back or choose to step away from work because of competing demands of taking care of children who aren't able to be in school, that has led to deepening of some of the poverty-related things that we help families with.

Chideya: Are you learning a bit about the social and emotional impact on kids from this era?

Daftary: What we're hearing from families and from kids directly is that they feel really isolated. And that's intentional in some way. We're asking them to be physically isolated to protect themselves, to protect people in their communities, and I think what's really hard is to figure out the ways to be physically isolated while not being socially isolated. Kids of different ages use different tools for that. Families with different means end up being able to use different tools for that. And it is really important because I think we're seeing kids expressing loneliness a lot more. Expressing boredom a lot more. So, I think we're just hearing about that a lot more as children are spending less time with other children. Certainly in person and then sometimes really struggling to find meaningful ways to do that using tools like virtual tools.

Chideya: I live in a predominantly Black, mixed income, and mixed race community. There's a playground like a couple blocks from my house and you'll see kids of different races and ages running around and wearing their masks and playing with each other and the adults sitting out with picnic baskets and playing soca music. That's going to disappear at some point unless everyone's wearing a snowsuit. What can people do in the winter? What can parents do, specifically, to keep children physically and mentally healthy?

Daftary: This is really tough and we're talking about it a lot in clinic. It's obviously really cold up here in Boston in general and we're trying to... we're starting to see those trends. One thing is I am advocating for everybody to buy a bunch of warm clothing because I think just getting out into the fresh air, even if it's for a walk, even if that playground is snow-covered and can't really be used in the same way, is going to be important. And then I think really thinking through indoors... What are the ways that you can move around inside your house? I think a lot of families have already started to get familiar with some of the cool apps that are out there. Websites that they can go to like GoNoodle and others. Schools are doing a really good job of prioritizing some of that. Playing music inside and dancing. Thinking about recreating space in homes to just allow for movement, I think will be important. And then maintaining those social connections. It will likely be largely virtual in order to keep everybody safe because we can't bring everyone indoors together.

Chideya: Well, Dr. Daftary, thank you so much for joining us.

Daftary: Thanks so much for having me.

Chideya: That was Dr. Genevieve Daftary, pediatric medical director at the Codman Square Health Center in Boston. 

We know how important it is to make your voice heard by voting and we want to make sure you feel safe doing so. Holli Draines has advice on how to keep yourself secure at the polls and elsewhere this election season. Draines is founder and CEO of Elite Strategy Global Incorporated in Arlington, Virginia. She's also a former Secret Service agent who served on presidential protective detail for President Obama, an experience she says was like no other.

Holli Draines:

The privilege of witnessing our country bringing into leadership our very first African American president and First Family... I mean, what can you say? That was nothing short of an honor because, more than anything else, history was made there.

Chideya: Holli, thanks for joining us.

Draines: Thank you so much for having me, Farai. It's a pleasure to be here.

Chideya: So, we brought you on to help us understand how to stay safe this coming month as we go to public places with lots of people, including polling locations, rallies, or marches for some people. What's the first step towards staying safe in these circumstances? Especially if you're a woman of color.

Draines: I would say first and foremost... Obviously, we're still in the midst of a pandemic, so we definitely want to make sure we're exercising all of our very vigilant precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Having said that, I think we have to invest in our individual personal safety. That requires sometimes some education because we don't always know what that looks like. I do the same thing. We go along with our daily routine and sometimes we forget to stop and take a pause. I need to be more mindful of the P's and Q's that are necessary just for good personal safety practices.

So, a couple of things. When you're going somewhere, if you haven't been there before, do your research. Find out where you're going to before you get there. Just educate yourself. Let me take a few minutes to see where I'm going, to see is there a gas station around me? Is my tank full? So if I need to be on the road for a longer period of time, I'm not stranded. Depending upon the event you're going to, whether it is voting, whether it is going out to meet somebody at an event, it's based on your comfort level. If you know I am not someone that is comfortable once the sun goes down, then you find out the hours of operation for what you're trying to do. If it's going to a polling place, recognize there may be lines so that may extend the hours somewhat.

Plan ahead. Take someone with you if they're available and also tell people where you're going. I don't always do that. I have left the state and I have forgotten to make those notifications. And I have had my loved ones say, "Really? Is that what we're doing now?" It takes nothing at all to let people know where you are going. Also, in an emergency, where is my exit? People may laugh at me, but a lot of times, I do look at that when I'm out at a restaurant or I'm out at an unfamiliar space. They may be illuminated or they may not be. How you enter a space may not be the best and most available if you need to leave there in an emergency. You can't always prevent something, but what you can do is practice tools that put yourself in the best possible opportunity to succeed in whatever you're being faced with.

Chideya: Your talk about exits reminded me of the days when I used to go out to the club... and those days are over. They were over before COVID happened, but-

Draines: Let's keep it honest. It was over for me a long time ago.

Chideya: And let's just be real. We are entering an election season where some people fear that there might be violence at protests or outside of protests. There have been tragic circumstances like the one in Kenosha at a Black Lives Matter protest back in August. But if you do perceive yourself to be in a place where people are armed, how do you then process things?

Draines: Number one, time and distance is what I tell people. Your job is not to engage physically with anyone. Unless you have no other alternative. It is literally life or death. So, if you are somewhere where it is too large, it just has too many people, you're just feeling like... not even that you've seen anything. I'm just not feeling comfortable. Remove yourself. Take yourself out of the situation. Because what you don't want to do is feel like I'm uncomfortable here, I should remove myself, I don't, and then a situation becomes more involved and now it becomes that much more difficult for you to extract yourself. If you see something that is of concern to you, then please report it to your local public safety authority for that area. But the goal for you as your personal safety is to remove yourself from that situation at every opportunity unless literally it is life and death and then that's a completely separate conversation.

Chideya: That was Holli Draines, CEO of Elite Strategy Global Incorporated. Thank you, Holli. 

Coming up next.

Audrey Edwards:

When I heard Donald Trump was running for the presidency, I declared, I started telling anybody who would listen, if this man wins the presidency, I'm out of here. 

Chideya: You're listening to Our Body Politic.

We've been collecting your thoughts and ideas on our platform, SPEAK, which allows you to leave anonymous feedback about what's on your mind. You can find the link to write us at farai.com/obp. And you can call and leave us a voicemail at 929-353-7006. That's 929-533-7006. This past week, we've been asking you, what is the most important issue to you as a voter and why? Everything you've shared with us so far is so important. Here's what you're talking about. Systemic racism, civil rights, gerrymandering, plus the woman of color candidates that are inspiring your community to have hope in these difficult times. We use your responses to craft the show week to week, so please keep sending us your thoughts and thank you.

We've all seen pictures of the long lines at polling places and heard the stories of people signing their mail-in ballots incorrectly. To help us make our votes count, we talked to Liz Hartley, an investor who is also the co-founder of a nonpartisan group called Eleven Three.

Liz Hartley:

And so what we do is we are focusing on a get out the vote strategy around voting early and voting in person, regardless of whether you had signed up for absentee or registration, as well as some protect the vote initiatives to ensure that there's fair electoral due process in every state and every district.

Chideya: Eleven Three runs a conversation on the private platform, Clubhouse, and a growing list of organizations all helping get out the vote this November 3rd.

Hartley: The most important is to ensure that you have a plan to vote, but in deciding that vote, you can literally... We have tools through one of our frontline partners... Both votewithus.org and landslide2020.org/vote have incredible tools where you can literally put in your zip code and it gives you a specific strategy for how to vote in person and how to vote early. Whatever your situation may be, it will give you the specific strategy that is unique to you.

Chideya: Eleven Three's mission also includes protecting the vote.

Hartley: One of partners, which is the Center for New Data, is using GPS and mobile phone based information to be able to track critical things like length, time and wait and distance traveled for voters coming into election sites. Not surprisingly, that data will be very useful perhaps in the days around the election and following, where there may be issues of voter disenfranchisement or voter suppression if people have to wait in incredibly long lines in particular counties and districts relative to their counterparts or have to travel very far in order to receive it. That data becomes a powerful fact base rather than a set of anecdotes.

Chideya: If you want to connect with Eleven Three, visit eleventhreenow.com. All of the numbers are spelled out as words. Eleventhreenow.com.

Hartley: Essentially, there's a role for everyone. And so even at a minimum, to be able to take some of the turn key assets that you can post into your Facebook, your Instagram, your Twitter feed that talks about what your specific plan is to vote... and we have those tools to help you know exactly what it is around voting early and voting in person. You can push that and then tag three of your closest friends, your besties, to go that do that next. Because we found that vote tripling by tagging three people makes it intimate, doesn't seem like spam, and you hold one another accountable. I think that's probably the single most powerful thing is everyone has reach and if everyone shows up and we all do so together, we can make a real difference.

Chideya: That was Liz Hartley of the get out the vote organization, Eleven Three. 

Here on Our Body Politic, we bring you women of color who are transforming the world in so many ways, including arts and culture. This week, we present Filipina filmmaker, Isabel Sandoval. Her film, Lingua Franca, is part of ARRAY, Ava DuVernay's film distribution company. Lingua Franca, which debuted on Netflix is about an undocumented trans woman named Olivia. One, Olivia is trying to get legal status in the US, and two, she's getting involved with a man who's going through his own changes.

Isabel Sandoval:

The mood and the atmosphere of my film is really a distillation of how I felt at that time. I started writing Lingua Franca while I was transitioning and then maybe two-thirds of the way through, that's when Trump got elected. I personally felt plunged into an emotional crisis. I was feeling really vulnerable and paranoid. Especially during the first six months of his presidency. So, although it's not autobiographical... I mean, Olivia and I are both Filipina trans women immigrants living in Brooklyn, but the rest of the story is fictional... but it's still is an intensely personal work because it really captures how I felt during that time.

Chideya: Sandoval wrote, directed, and also stars in the movie.

Sandoval: It was also quite the journey trying to get this film, or make this film exactly as I envisioned it, because we had a few investors that were like, I'd invest in your movie if you write in scenes of actual physical violence against a trans woman. And that's become such a lazy trope. That's part of the expectation that I set up, and to, I use that opportunity to subvert that this is not that kind of film. But I still wanted to explore a different kind of violence in relationships. And this is not just particular to like, someone who's trans and someone who's cis, but relationships with power differentials, in that one of them is a citizen and is a cisgender male. And that there is emotional and psychological violence happening in relationships that's being done by, say, gaslighting. And it just feels invisible, so that's the kind of psychological depth and complexity that I wanted to explore in a film that's ostensibly about topical themes and social issues.

Chideya: New York City is a main character in the movie, too.

Sandoval: New York City as a metropolis and as a character cinematically is not one monolith. There's not one New York City. And having lived in mostly outer boroughs like Queens and Brooklyn, you really see that it’s, these boroughs are made up of distinct immigrant and ethnic communities and neighborhoods. That's what I wanted to capture and convey in Lingua Franca. I live in Crown Heights, which is a lot closer to the Williamsburg in Lena Dunham's “Girls,” you know, a bunch of white hipsters. These are very gentrified neighborhoods, but when you, when I take the Q train down to Brighton Beach just half an hour south of where I am, I feel like I'm being whisked off into a totally different country and even time period. I also made it a point that I opened and closed the film by juxtaposing the montage of these imagery of an iconic American place with my voiceover in my native language, Cebuano. It's like, okay, you might think that you're seeing another New York movie yet again, but I am... This is me sharing my New York story from my own perspective and my own voice that's defiantly and very much anchored in being Filipino and Filipinx.

Chideya: It's a complex and layered film. One which continues the way Sandoval expresses the world in her works.

Sandoval: I've said before that the French filmmaker Jean Cocteau used to say directors and filmmakers make the same movie over and over again over the course of their career, and that we tend to revisit the same themes and conflicts or unresolved issues that project themselves subconsciously onto our work. My go-to theme in my films have been women who are at some sort of disadvantage or are marginalized in a certain way, who are forced to confront a very private and personal conflict or issue within a fraught sociopolitical environment or setting. With my second feature, Apparition, it's about cloistered Catholic nuns in a monastery outside Manila who find themselves under siege as the rest of the country is becoming more turbulent because of the threat of the declaration of martial law in the Philippines. With Lingua Franca, that fixation or that obsession with that theme is very much apparent, where this woman is falling in love but also pursuing a path to citizenship as the threat of ICE arrests, deportation, is escalating.

Chideya: That was Isabel Sandoval, writer and director of Lingua Franca, now on Netflix.

Here is more good news this week from the media and arts world.

Barbie Clip:

Millions of people across the world are standing up to fight against racism.

Chideya: Toy maker Mattel recently released a video on their YouTube channel in which Barbie and a Black friend talk openly about racism and white privilege. HBO's wildly popular show, Euphoria, starring Zendaya, has announced it will air two special episodes in December to bridge the gap between season one and season two. The Emmy-winning show had to halt production due to the pandemic. For those of us who are feeling like we need a little pep talk from a social justice icon, there's a new interactive piece on Angela Davis in the New York Times Style Magazine, titled “The Greats.” Davis says she's motivated by the activism she's seeing today and implores people to keep fighting for real change.

Edwards: When I heard Donald Trump was running for the presidency, I declared... I started telling anybody who would listen, if this man wins the presidency, I'm out of here. I'm leaving America.

Chideya: That's author and journalist, Audrey Edwards, talking about the last time Donald Trump ran for president. That's 2016. Little did she know, she'd have to make good on that promise. For Edwards, her destination of choice, like so many Black Americans before her, was France. She wrote a delightful book about her experience there called American Runaway: Black and Free in Paris in the Trump Years. She got on a plane to Paris two days before the inauguration in January 2017. Arriving in the French capital, she found herself unable to escape President Trump's grasp on the news.

Edwards: January 20th was also the date of the worldwide women's protest march and the organizers worldwide had pretty much the same idea that I did. I was determined not to be there. They were determined to have a protest march against his ascending, as I put it, to the throne of the American empire.

Chideya: You have a great photograph in the book of yourself standing near the Eiffel Tower. I believe that was from protest day. Is that correct?

Edwards: Yes. That was the day.

Chideya: What did it feel like, in your body, in your soul, in your heart, to be there on that day under those circumstances?

Edwards: I was never a marcher. My college roommate lived in Paris. She'd been living there over 20 years and she had always been a marcher. In college, going back to the mid-60s, she would be out protesting the war in Vietnam. It was the day after I got into Paris. I knew she was going. She talked me into going with her. I was like, "Okay, Jo." And then I just said, okay, you know what? You told her you would march with her. Just calm down, step up, march. So, we start walking and I turned around and there were thousands of people! Out of nowhere. I'm like, oh my goodness! So, then, I was kind of revved up. I was like pumped up. I was kind of exhilarated, being around all these women and men, being back with my roommate. And then it occurred to me. I said, you know what? There's a place for marching. There's always been a place for marching. Because what marching does is put the system, whatever it is at the time, on notice. And the notice is, we are not putting up with this.

Chideya: Do you think that sometimes... One of my friends said to me... Because, honestly, I said, well maybe I need a break from the US at some point. And he said something interesting. He said, "Sometimes it's okay to trade your problems for someone else's problems."

Edwards: Well, you know what I've said, Farai... and I just recently thought about this. White Americans are always not... They do polls. Polls about racism in America. And white Americans, the majority, invariably say they don't think racism in America is a problem. Now, why do they say that? Because they don't experience racism in America. And what I say when I'm in Paris in particular... I don't experience racism as a Black American in Paris. I would go into a store in Paris and the clerks would look at me as a, you know, maybe they look at my height, I’m five foot ten. Maybe they were looking at my blood-red nails. I wore, you know, loud fingernail polish. But I never got the feeling that my color is what they were reacting to. There may be racism directed towards Africans, but I say, what's that got to do with me? It's pretty much the same attitude that white Americans are not saying quite that directly, because they're trying to be politically correct, but what they're really saying when they say they don't think racism is a problem, whether it's John Bolton or a suburban housewife. I don't get treated with disrespect because of my color. So, yeah, you don't think it's a problem.

Chideya: You have also written in your book that America has an ancestral hold on the Black artists who leave it and most of them end up returning. Baldwin returned. You have returned. What does it mean to return to a nation in this much turmoil?

Edwards: The thing about your homeland... Your homeland is where your people are. Your family, your friends, and your culture. I don't speak French. Now, what I have always said is that if I spoke French, I would be gone permanently.

Chideya: Just leave us with a tiny little piece of inspiration. What the freedom of making a choice about where to live did for you and that you have carried with you back to the United States.

Edwards: One of the things that it did for me, Farai... I am 73 years old and I made this move the year that I turned 70. It told me, you can do anything you want at any age. It's really about how you are thinking, how you see yourself. And I have to say, my 70s have been the best years of my life.

Chideya: Audrey Edwards, it has been magnificent having you on. Thank you so much.

Edwards: Thank you, Farai.

Chideya: That was Audrey Edwards. Her book is called American Runaway: Black and Free in Paris in the Trump Years.

Thank you for joining us on Our Body Politic. We're on the air each weekend everywhere you listen to podcasts. Our Body Politic is presented and syndicated by KCRW, KPCC, and KQED. It 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. Cedric Wilson is lead producer and mixed this episode. Original music by Kojin Tashiro. Our political bookers are Mary Knowles and Melanie Ganim. Michelle Baker and Emily Daly are assistant producers. Production assistance from Mark Betancourt,  Michael Castañeda and Virginia Lora.

Funder Credit:

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


Chideya, Farai, host. "Black Americans Buying Guns, Making Your Voting Plan, and an Inspiring Filipina Filmmaker.” Our Body Politic, Diaspora Farms LLC. October 23, 2020. https://our-body-politic.simplecast.com/