Farai Chideya talks with Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington about her decision to have an abortion years ago, and her experience of the January 6th insurrection. Our Body Politic’s new economics analyst Jamila Michener of Cornell University discusses important policy changes that could benefit workers. Public health contributor Dr. Kavita Trivedi gives practical advice for families with unvaccinated children as kids go back to school. On Sippin’ the Political Tea, Errin Haines and Jess Morales Rocketto join Farai to talk about the week’s news, and of course, AOC’s “Tax the Rich” dress.
0:52 Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal gets personal about abortion rights
12:56 Economics analyst Jamila Michener dissects job numbers for people of color
21:30 Public health contributor Dr. Kavita Trivedi on Covid for kids under 12
31:25 Sippin’ the Political Tea: Errin Haines of the 19th and Jess Morales Rocketto of the National Domestic Workers Alliance on the week’s news
Farai Chideya: Thank you for listening and sharing Our Body Politic. We're so grateful for all the listeners whose input has helped shape the show. We would not be here without you. So as you're listening today, do us a favor, go to Apple Podcast and please leave us a review. It helps more people find us and we read every one. Your feedback matters to us. Thank you so much.
Chideya: This is Our Body Politic. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya. On our show, I get to talk to powerful women of color about the deep through lines that connect news stories. My next guest examines the link between abortion rights, white supremacist extremism, and January 6th.
Chideya: Pramila Jayapal is a leading voice from the left of the Democratic Party. She represents the 7th Congressional District in the State of Washington, which encompasses most of Seattle. She was born in India and came to the U.S. at 16 to attend Georgetown University. She eventually became the first South Asian American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2016. Representative Jayapal, welcome to Our Body Politic.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal:
It is so good to be with you today.
Chideya: Well, you have really become such an influential member of Congress, and you've had many adventures before you even got to those halls. One of them took you into a space where you had to consider what your choices were around continuing a pregnancy, and you wrote about that a couple of years ago for the New York Times. Can you just tell us briefly what choice you were faced with and what choice you made?
Jayapal: In my case, I had had my first child very prematurely. They go by they, them pronouns. They were born at 26 and a half weeks. They weighed 1 pound 14 ounces. They almost didn't make it. In fact, I call them my miracle child because it's a complete miracle that they actually made it through, but they were suffering with so many issues. I had gone through a divorce right after that. Partly, the stress of all of that, that was happening. I met another person, I said, I want to have more children, but I'm still waiting to see if Janak is going to make it out of this and be okay. The doctors told me that there was no way that they could guarantee that I wouldn't have another extremely high-risk pregnancy given what had happened to me. I was on birth control, very diligently, I might add, but birth control didn't work. I got pregnant and I was faced with this choice of going through potentially an extremely high-risk pregnancy or terminating the pregnancy. It was very difficult because I wanted to have more children. I was with a loving, wonderful human being who became my husband. But I knew that I could not go through that and I also felt it was really unfair to Janak that I needed to focus all my attention on them. And so I chose to terminate my pregnancy. And I wanted to just highlight that at the end of the day, I don't try to convince people that they should or shouldn't have an abortion. I don't want them to convince me. I just want us all to be able to make the choices that we feel are necessary to make economically, time of our life, for our family, medical issues, whatever it is. It's our choice. It's our body, we deserve to make those choices.
Chideya: Yeah. We've seen different nations, including Mexico, decriminalize abortion. Why is the United States do you think moving in a different direction?
Jayapal: I think that it is all about the radical right politics of control. Because if you look at the statistics across the country, one in four women has had an abortion in the United States across the ideological spectrum. People believe that a woman should have the right, a pregnant person should have the right to a safe and legal abortion. So to me, it's about control over choice. It's about radicalizing even further this political thing to run on.
Chideya: When you think about the midterms, do you think this will affect the dynamic of the midterm elections? I know all the crystal balling can get tiresome, but if you have any thoughts, we'd love to hear them.
Jayapal: I do. I actually think that they do not understand the anger that families, that individuals across the country have around this choice. I think it is going to energize the base in a way that they were not expecting, that they don't want to have happened. It's of course, bringing up the Supreme Court in all the ways that we predicted that it might when Judge Kavanaugh was being considered for appointment to the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, same thing. And so I think in some ways they've really unleashed the fury of women across this country and families across this country who support the choice of a pregnant person.
Chideya: Our legal contributor, Law Professor Tiffany Jeffers of Georgetown, spoke to us just in our last show about the Texas abortion law and the idea of vigilantes being empowered to spy on people and seek some form of justice within the framework of that legal construct that's been set up in Texas and also said that we needed to consider the possibility that this would become part of the big picture of extremism right now. And that's another topic that you are very deeply engaged on. How do you think the framing of the Texas law does or does not relate to this question of extremism and vigilantism?
Jayapal: To me, it's all part of the same ball of wax. All of this is part and parcel of the idea that none of this works and therefore we should go to a dictatorial white supremacist rule by a small group of white men. The Texas law is part of that strategy. Voting rights is part of that strategy. January 6th is part of that strategy. It is all part of an attempt, in my mind, to really get rid of truth, get rid of facts, get rid of science, and take control for a very small group of people to have all of the control over the rest of us.
Chideya: And of course, the question of January 6th is even more heavily foregrounded now that we are in the run-up to an event, a rally scheduled to take place on Saturday, September 18th. And we're speaking in advance of that rally. Our show will air when that is happening and afterwards. Tell me about how you are making sense of the chessboard right now, given your experiences on January 6th and given the various ways in which Congress has and has not addressed the insurrection.
Jayapal: This is one of the hardest things we're dealing with, frankly. I was in the gallery on January 6th, I was trapped in the gallery on January 6th. I had just had a knee operation, so I couldn't and even walk and 15 feet away from me and many other members that were there the insurrectionists were pounding on the door to get in. I will say I was with a number of other women of color. For folks of color to watch confederate flags being raised and all the racist things that were being yelled and put forward on t-shirts, it was even a bigger kind of attack in some ways. It was an attack on everybody, obviously. Right after January 6th, I formed something called the Gallery Group. It was the members that were stuck up in the gallery. Even after other members were taken off the floor, nobody noticed that we were, couldn't get us out. So we were trapped. We've all had to deal with the trauma that has come from that. But the thing that makes it particularly difficult is it's not trauma that's in the past, it is current and future. And so there is no healing really possible because every time somebody denies that January 6th happened, every time some Republican says some absurd and outrageous and offensive thing like these were tourists on January 6th and every time these white supremacists, proud boys, QAnon supporters, all of these individuals organize another event, it triggers everything within us. So I would say, sometimes it feels like we're just walking within this very minefield-laden place. I think that is what erupts on the Gallery Group text chain every time and people are talking about keeping our staff home and keeping our staff safe leading up to Saturday's rally.
Chideya: Yeah. I mean, as you were talking, I couldn't help of course, but think of Senator Ron Johnson's statement that he didn't feel unsafe during January 6th, but he would've felt unsafe if it was BLM you. And that certainly is a very different perspective from yours. And I think the course of history will bear out and has borne out that the insurrection was an insurrection, planned as an insurrection, on and on and on. This is something that has always fascinated me. How do you just show up to work every day knowing that these are your colleagues in the House and Senate?
Jayapal: It's gotten harder and harder. And you know, what you said about what Ron Johnson said, of course, that was the precursor for me, right? Last July, I questioned Attorney General Barr when he was at the Judiciary Committee where I deliberately compared what happened with Black Lives Matter protestors and what happened at the Michigan State Capitol with white supremacists carrying guns and confederate flags and things like that, and swastikas, calling for the governor to be beheaded. The Michigan thing was the trial run for what happened on January 6th. And we saw the difference with how Black Lives Matter folks are treated and how these white supremacists with guns are treated. And it is one of the things that just gets at us every single day. And we go to work and we try to do the job we're supposed to do, but it is very difficult because these are people who are threatening our identity and our existence with everything they say.
Chideya: It strikes me that right now we are in a time where there are all these arcs of history that we are debating that already have had a massive impact. What effect do you hope your work as a lawmaker will have on these major arcs of history and how do you measure success?
Jayapal: I hope that the work I'm doing, that we are doing because it's an inside, outside movement here, is about bending that arc more quickly towards justice. I don't think we're going to get all the way there in the very short time that we have on this earth or the even shorter time that I'm in Congress, but I do believe that this is a unique moment in history where the outside movement, where the conditions, where the crises, where the inequality has gotten to such a tipping point that courage is possible in this moment of crisis, where perhaps it wasn't five years ago, 10 years ago. But the reality is that big changes require all of us to step up and to put our hope on the line once more, recognizing that, yes, of course, we might be disappointed if we don't get everything we want, but we have to put it on the line if we're going to fight to get anything that is really, truly substantial. So I just want people to have that hope and to remember that nothing great in the history of our country or our world has ever happened easily. It's a fight, but courage is born from crisis.
Chideya: Representative Jayapal, thank you so much for joining us.
Jayapal: Thank you.
Chideya: That was Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington. My next guest is a brand new contributor on the show. Jamila Michener is an associate professor at Cornell University and co-director of its Center for Health Equity. She researches poverty, racial inequality, and public policy. As our new economics analyst, Jamila will examine housing access, healthcare equity, and the social safety net. This week, we focus on all things job market. Welcome, Jamila.
Jamila Michener: It's great to be here.
Chideya: I am, first of all, just obsessed with labor economics. I have covered news for 30 years and remembered doing a series of audio docs during the Great Recession and just learning so much about how the economy worked and how decisions at the top affected people on an everyday level. So let's talk about jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last month that unemployment rates are down for adult men and white people, but not for adult women, black people, Asian Americans, and Hispanics. So break it down a little bit for us. What's going on in the economy?
Michener: Yeah. This is, frankly, exactly what we should expect because this is how unemployment rates tend to behave, which is that once there's a bounce back or it appears like there's a bounce back, that bounce back, the benefits of that really tend to be down back to white men. And many other people in the labor market, in particular women of color, but also black men and other folks of color don't tend to rebound nearly as well. Some of that has to do with the dynamics that are shaping who is able to reenter into the labor market seamlessly and who faces more challenges. Some of those challenges are really systematic barriers to being able to get hired, like flat-out discrimination, and some of them are structural barriers in life, right? Like being able to actually have access to the transportation you need, to the childcare you need, to the various other things that people need to actually be able to take advantage of employment opportunities even when they exist. So I'm sure everyone looks around and they see all the “help wanted” signs and it's like, “Hey, if you don't have a job right now, it's because you don't want one.” And we can take those numbers and assume that anyone who's not employed doesn't really want work, but the communities where people want work but are facing a range of barriers that don't make it feasibly possible for them to really work, at least as work is currently structured, those folks are more likely to be black folks, more likely to be people of color. And so even as the labor market itself has hold some opportunity for work. Now, that doesn't mean good work.
Michener: But for work. It doesn't mean that we're going to see the unemployment rates bounce back in the same way in every community.
Chideya: Yeah. And also definitely what you're saying resonates with the whole scope of the she-cession, the female recession.
Chideya: I was looking for someone to do a task around the place where I've been renting for a while temporarily and the company that hires people was like, “We can't get people.” But one of the things I thought about was transportation, it's a place you've got to reach by car. And that definitely has been a race-driven dynamic in terms of who gets access to transportation and who has the money for a private vehicle. What other things should we be looking at? Now that there's all of the work on infrastructure that includes childcare, et cetera, do we think that some of these levers might change? Not necessarily the discrimination lever, but the levers of different kinds of social structures that allow people to work.
Michener: I think it's absolutely possible for them to change, which is really important because we don't want to be in a position where we throw our hands up and say, “I guess this is just too hard.” We can do things about them. I think the childcare front is a perfect example, thinking about that as infrastructure and investing in it. Some of it is like if you have a young child that would otherwise be in daycare, providing options and opportunities for that, that are feasible. You can actually get to the daycare. So some of these things intersect, right?
Chideya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Michener: Transportation and childcare can be a double barrier. But one of the things that I think is important to keep in mind is that COVID is a context. Even as people think that we're coming out of the pandemic, it creates a context where there's a lot of instability and a lot of volatility, especially for people who don't have resources. So a perfect example is anyone with small children right now, even if they're school-aged and you should be able to send them off to school every day, knows what's happening, which is if your kid has the sniffles, they can't go in right now because any kind of a symptom means that you stay home and every child in the household stays home. What that means is that all parents with school-aged children right now are dealing with a kind of instability. You never know when somebody in the class will potentially have been exposed or someone in your ... And you have to be able to like, just be home. And so what that means is not only do we need childcare, but we need flexible arrangements built-in, even on the labor market side so that you're able to, “Hey, I need to stay home today because my kid's not going to school.” And we need to think about how to also build that into these different policy structures that we're building. Interestingly, that was always a challenge for low-income families.
Chideya: Yeah, absolutely.
Michener: This just creates an opportunity for us to take it seriously.
Chideya: One more thing on jobs. There have been moves by some companies that had seemed very secure in, for example, not allowing or not being open to unionization, not wanting to raise wages. I'm thinking here of Amazon. It eventually did raise its baseline wage. But now, they are offering to pay for college tuition for employees who stay beyond a certain point. And we're seeing some other companies that have already done this. Are companies now feeling like they have to sweeten the pot to get workers?
Michener: Absolutely. It's not out of the goodness of their hearts. It is because it is an economic imperative for them at this point because they need workers. And in a tight labor market where labor is ascendant, you don't get those workers unless you create incentives for them to come, right? And so I think that this is a really great example of precisely the position we should want workers to be in all the time. Sometimes that happens in conditions like this, where there are really tight labor markets and employers have to because they have no choice if they want to remain kind of successful and solvent. But I think even when labor markets loosen, we should be thinking about making sure that workers have power, that they have leverage. I mean, look at this, these companies, they could have done this all long. They didn't until they had to. And that's why it's important for workers to have power and to have leverage because there's a lot more that they can get out of their employers, but none of that is going to come for free or out of the goodness of anyone's heart. It's going to come if you have to and you have to when you're in a position where either your profits are threatened or you have few options. And so I think strong labor protections, even as we move out of ... Eventually, we won't ... You know, a tight labor market isn't a constant condition, it's the kind of thing that ebbs and flows. And even as we move out of that, we want to think about how can we keep workers in a position where they have leverage in the ways they do now.
Chideya: Yeah. Well, there was more I wanted to ask you about, but it will have to be a cliffhanger. Thank you so much, Jamila, for joining us.
Michener: Thanks for having me.
Chideya: That was Jamila Michener, our economics analyst on Our Body Politic. It's once again time to check in with our public health contributor, Dr. Kavita Trivedi. Every time we talk to Dr. Trivedi, we try to touch on health topics beyond COVID. But today, we have to focus on the rising concerns felt by families about COVID in schools. Welcome back, Dr. Trivedi.
Dr. Kavita Trivedi:
Thanks, Farai. Great to be back.
Chideya: Let's start with kids. I have so many friends with kids who are under the age of 12, who are struggling with how to send them to school and have them socialize safely. What do you know about the COVID infections and deaths as they affect kids? What's happening? Are they moving up or down?
Trivedi: One thing that's important to recognize is when cases increase in our community, cases also increase in kids and adolescents. We also know that kids under the age of 12 are still unvaccinated and therefore are still susceptible to this virus. What we're seeing, if you look across the country, is that especially in August hospitalizations among kids and adolescents did increase four times in states with low vaccination rates versus states with high vaccination rates. Where adults and children over the age of two 12 have been largely vaccinated, there is a lower prevalence of infection.
Chideya: It's really a time where people are seeking practical advice. What is your advice for parents and caregivers who want to keep kids in their lives safe?
Trivedi: Yeah. It's to get yourself vaccinated. Get the people around kids vaccinated. That is the absolute best way to protect our kids until we can get them vaccinated themselves. I would say that is number one. And then I think the second thing, Farai, is to implement those infection prevention measures that we know work, those layered measures. So we want to encourage school districts to still implement face coverings, especially high-quality face coverings while we're indoors. We want to improve ventilation, engaging in safe behavior outside of school as well. I would really encourage parents just in general, not to let our guard down. Many parents are vaccinated, kids are not, kids can still bring infection into the house and transmit within the house successfully. So we really need to be vigilant until our kids can get vaccinated as well. And then the last thing I would say is if your kids are having a tough time wearing face coverings, I encourage the whole family to mask, to wear a face-covering because that can help our kids feel like they're not the only ones that are still having to adhere to these measures.
Chideya: There's been a lot of speculation on the more neutral side, all the way to outright disinformation about what vaccines are. How does the conversation over the federal vaccine mandate impact an environment that's full of disinformation?
Trivedi: I think it's a really good move on the White House's part because it impacts so many different people. It impacts the military, federal workers, and federal contractors, as well as hospitals that are funded by the centers for Medicaid and Medicare services. I mean, it impacts so many different groups. And so it impacts four million federal workers. It impacts potentially 80 million private-sector employees because OSHA is going to recommend that businesses with greater than 100 employees must also comply with these federal mandates. So that's 80 million private-sector workers. We have 17 million healthcare workers working in CMS-funded, reimbursed healthcare facilities. 50% of whom are already vaccinated, but we still need to get the other 50% vaccinated. So it really will impact a large number of people. We now have over 170 million people who have been vaccinated with very low rates of side effects. We have tried financial incentives. We have tried having full approval by the FDA of the vaccine, not just an emergency use authorization. We've tried so many different things and we still are not able to get past 54% of the country vaccinated. And with the Delta variant, we need 90% immunity either through vaccination or natural infection to get us to that herd immunity level. The Delta variant is the reason why we are having to push these vaccine mandates because we just don't have another choice at this point. Many Americans are not choosing to get the vaccine and much of it is due to misinformation that we are trying to combat, but we're not able to address it successfully. I think recently, Andy Slavitt tweeted that by the end of September, the U.S. will the lowest vaccination level of all prosperous democracies. However, we have the largest supply and we have the biggest head start. So I think this is the impetus behind these vaccine mandates. We have to do something to encourage people, even more, to get vaccinated.
Chideya: Yeah. When we look at the state of play right now, what is giving you some sense of peace about the trajectory? You mentioned what is essentially an effect of vaccine resistance. Not just hesitancy, but resistance. We're reaching that point where the vaccine is so widely available in the U.S. that the numbers are stuck where they're stuck because of people who just really are not at all open to taking the vaccine. Even given that, what gives you hope?
Trivedi: One thing that definitely gives me hope is seeing all these 12 to 15-year-olds, these adolescents who have gotten the vaccine. And younger children are making these amazing decisions for themselves, looking at the science, talking to their pediatricians, and making these really great decisions for themselves, but also for their communities. So that really gives me hope. I think the other thing that gives me hope right now is just seeing the resilience of children. Most of our kids are back in school and they are wearing masks in many jurisdictions, and they don't have any problem doing it. Day in and day out, they keep their masks on and they are so happy to be back in school, playing and learning and interacting with their friends. I think the other thing that really gives me a lot of hope is watching people make decisions based on their particular situation. At the beginning of the pandemic, Farai, CDC was giving us a template. Public health was saying, “This is what you do now. You don't go indoors. You stay in your home. You only interact with your household.” That was what we were being told in the very beginning, and most of us were following that playbook. Now, we are in a part of the pandemic where no one's going to tell us what to do. And certainly, different local jurisdictions have different recommendations for their populations. So people are having to make decisions on their own. Is it safe to fly? Is it safe to go to that wedding? I'll give you one example. Many weeks ago, my vaccinated 13-year-old son was at an indoor camp where several unvaccinated kids under the age of 12 were also at the camp and there was no testing at this camp. There were just indoors with masks, right?
Trivedi: During lunch, the kids stayed indoors and ate with their masks off. My son looked at this and decided that, that wasn't the safe thing for him. Remember, my son is vaccinated, right? He would walk outside by himself to eat lunch every day.
Chideya: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Wow.
Trivedi: This decision didn't impact anyone else. It didn't impact any other kids. It did take a tremendous amount of courage and conviction to be the only kid eating outside. And he did this because he knows he has an unvaccinated brother at home who we have to maintain vigilance for. These are the kind of decisions I think that each and every person is making each day. In order for us to really make these decisions well, we have to be thinking how our decisions impact others. In that moment, I was so proud of him that he evaluated a situation and made the best decision, not just for him, but for us as a family.
Chideya: Yeah. What maturity. It must have made you feel really comfortable that in a world where you try to work professionally on public health, you've got your kid on board.
Trivedi: That definitely was a parenting win. For parents out there, we need those. We need a couple of parenting wins to help us keep going.
Chideya: Well, fantastic. Thank you, Dr. Trivedi.
Trivedi: Thanks, Farai. It was great to talk to you again.
Chideya: That was Dr. Kavita Trivedi our public health contributor here at Our Body Politic. Now, it's time for Sip in the Political Tea. Joining me this week is our original dream team, Our Body Politic contributor, Jess Morales Rocketto, civic engagement director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Welcome back, Jess.
Jess Morales Rocketto:
Hey, glad to be back.
Chideya: Also, Errin Haines, editor-at-large at The 19th. Hey, Erin.
Errin Haines: The band is back together.
Chideya: So take it away. What are we going to talk about today?
Haines: Well, you know, all eyes were on AOC this week at the Met Gala in New York. Let's listen to a clip from CNN.
CNN: Was sporting a white gown that read on the back, “Tax the rich.” And this outfit has drawn mixed reactions from the public for promoting the message at an event that costs more than $30,000 per ticket.
Haines: Okay. First of all, you invite AOC to the Met Gala. Do you really expect her not to make a statement? Right? Her choice of dress was certainly no surprise to me, but it did get quite the reaction from folks. And yes, I'm just wondering why you think the public has such a strong reaction to her dress.
Well, she's such a polarizing figure in the media. And so I think like, no matter what she did, somebody was going to say something. She's also a beautiful brown woman in a dress that was designed by a beautiful black woman who literally used her body to make a statement. And that is such a perfect, chef's kiss use to subvert the patriarchy. I'm so glad she did it. I think a lot of people are kind of mad that she's so good at this.
Haines: Yeah. Good point. I think too, the idea that AOC is supposed to be this kind of woman of the people and here she is at the Met Gala wearing an expensive dress. CNN, Farai, said that AOC wanted to have her cake and eat it too, but was her messaging effective?
Chideya: Well, this is the kind of thing where on one level, I'm just sort of like, “Well, of course.” Of course, we're going to see this kind of messaging play out in ways that seem superficial and like a billboard, but the reality is most people actually read into politics at that level. I'm not even saying, this is not a, like, “I'm so great because I pay close attention to politics.” People have things to do. And I'm never judgemental about people who are not news hounds. And there's also emotional wellness implication sometimes for plugging in deeply into the news. So sometimes a billboard is actually just the best thing to do. Keep it simple. What's super interesting to me is that there is a lot of dissent in the Democratic Party around whether taxing the rich is the way to go. And so this is not just a message that is going to a general audience. This is also clapping back to her own colleagues in Congress who are less interested in changing the taxation system, including members of the Democratic Party.
Haines: And AOC wasn't even the only member of Congress at the Met Gala who was making a statement, right? Representative Carolyn Maloney, also of New York, wore a gown that was adorned with the colors of suffrage, purple, white, and gold, and a sash that read, “Equal rights for women.” Her bag read, “ERA YES.” Referring to that proposed equal rights amendment that would amend the constitution to eliminate discrimination on the basis of sex. Meanwhile, you do a Google search of AOC's dress and you get 178 million results.
Chideya: Well, that speaks to her power. She is a master communicator.
Yeah. Farai, I really appreciate that you said that because I feel like people maybe don't understand that literally she is an organizer and it was an action. I saw one of my favorite organizers, Charlene Carruthers, the founder of BYP100, she compared it to a banner drop, which is like when an organizer will go to a freeway overpass or a building and drop a banner. Usually, it's a very specific message, “Tax the rich. Pass this bill now.” In organizing, we say, you want to put your body on the line and she literally walked the walk and talk the talk and it worked. Everybody's talking about her. And fashion's biggest night, the person who's getting the biggest applause and criticism and message is a Congresswoman. That's pretty hard to do.
Chideya: And one last thing to throw in, this of course, comes after the ProPublica investigation from leaked IRS documents that showed that a lot of billionaires have an effective tax rate of 0 to 4%. It's worth rereading that in this context.
Haines: Let's turn to California because Governor Gavin Newsom was fighting for his job in a recall election. It was going to be a cliffhanger, but the day after it ended the votes tallied showed that more than 60% of voters decided to keep Governor Newsom in his job.
CNN: CNN projects that California's Democratic Governor, Gavin Newsom, defeats the recall and will serve out the year plus left on his term.
Haines: Jess, what does this tell you about the Democratic Party right now and its future in California?
California is a little bit of a special place when it comes to the Democratic Party. Not only of course is California known as one of the most progressive states in the union, there are also though is what I would think of as an independent streak there. Lots of people don't identify as democratic voters, even when they vote for Democrats. There's a strong, independent registration there, and you're able to vote in primaries without being a Democrat or a Republican, which means that independents can be a little bit misleading in California, but also have a lot of power. So one thing I find absolutely fascinating about this super blue state, where they always elect pretty progressive and democratic leaders is they don't like Democrats that much. And those weak ties are not good for the future of the Democratic Party there because you have highly partisan people on the Republican side who are only getting more conservative and more partisan, frankly, in the face of what they kind of deemed as like hyper progressiveness in the state. And then you have a big block of independence who function as a different type of swing voter. They need to be persuaded to move closer to the democratic party. And ultimately is something that Republicans could exploit as we move forward.
Haines: You talk about California being a unique place. I mean, Tuesday's vote was only the fourth gubernatorial recall election in U.S. history, but two of those challenges have been in California. If you all remember, the last was in 2003, when you had actor Arnold Schwarzenegger successfully ousting then-Governor Gray Davis. So in this recall in LA County, voters defeated the recall by 73.6% to 26.4% in Orange County. Voters defeated the recall by 57.9% to 42.1%. I think what was also striking to me though, was that you had Larry Elder, the black conservative talk show host, who was kind of seen as the front runner behind Gavin Newsom, getting something like a million votes, which is no small thing even though obviously, he was not successful. I think the pandemic definitely had a lot to do with that. In late July, Governor Newsom announced these vaccine mandates for California State employees, healthcare workers, school staff, along with a mask requirement for school children. And these were orders that Elder had promised to revoke on day one if he was elected. Farai, I want to come to you because even though, like I said, the recall failed, there was a lot of energy at times behind Elder. What can we take away from how things played out, especially ahead of the midterms?
Chideya: I am absolutely fascinated by California. There are quite a few people of color of different demographics who come into elections with a generally pro-Republican, definitely anti-communist framework that helps lead their conservatism. So that's one thing to take into account. Larry Elder is a fascinating public figure because back in August, he said that the election results were fair in terms of Biden-Trump. But then because he is in an environment where a lot of people are weaponizing disinformation about that election, he actually recanted and started saying that he believed that the election had been stolen from Trump. And then he finished out his recall by saying that the election would be stolen from him before the results were even counted. That to me is just a really sad example of the ways in which politics right now seems to offer certain people a chance at grabbing the brass ring by embracing disinformation. It did not work for Larry Elder regardless of the other merits or counter merits to his campaign. He, I think, really discredited himself by embracing a narrative that he apparently didn't even believe about Trumpism. That was fascinating to me.
Haines: Yeah. It will be really interesting to see in upcoming elections, whether the big lie plays out in some of these other contests where you have candidates raising the specter of voter fraud and a rigged election the way that Elder did. So Jess, the election cost the state millions of dollars, 276 million to be exact. What exactly does that money get spent on?
This is complicated because this election was a very frivolous election that didn't need to happen and ultimately cost a lot of money that could have gone to programs. And I hesitate to say that it's not appropriate to spend a lot of money on elections because you have election officials all over the country who are viciously underfunded, and that's one of the reasons why our election can be exploited because there's no investment in election administration. So that includes stuff like machines that are working, but it also includes things like, you know, not every county in California is Los Angeles County, huge and big. There's lots of small rural counties where election administration officials literally do things like hand address your envelope for your absentee ballot. So this election was not a good use of money and we need to fund election administration at much higher levels than we do right now as a very important measure against voter suppression.
Haines: Okay. So moving right along to vaccine mandates. Last week, the Biden-Harris Administration announced vaccine mandates for federal workers, including healthcare staff and companies with more than 100 employees. Jess, how will this affect government workers?
One of the biggest pieces of this is that the Biden Administration is taking a somewhat hard-line stance given the way that vaccines have become a stand-in for Trumpism, conservativism. So it's quite notable that the Biden Administration, which is somewhat associated with bipartisanship, all that soul of the nation stuff that he talks about. Being incredibly conciliatory is taking the stance. And what I'm finding from workers is people are genuinely wanting to understand what's going on here. I think that particularly in really progressive circles, it can seem like, these people are crazy. Why haven't they gotten the vaccine? People just don't understand it. But when I talk to folks, the misinformation and disinformation that stems from the big lie and Trumpism and Fox News and all of that stuff, actually has affected people. Maybe not that they're anti-vaccine, but they are trying to make sense of what is going on. And I do think that the President and of course, Vice President Harris are going to be probably the most important messengers in this. In particular, I think Vice President Harris has a major role to play because we know that there is some vaccine hesitancy in the black community, in the Latino community. And she, I think is an incredibly powerful messenger among those groups of people to say, I totally get that you want to do more research and also let's get this vaccine.
Haines: Yeah. So Farai, you've got companies like Walt Disney, Google promising to adopt their own mandates. What can we expect from large corporations?
Chideya: Well, first of all, the President met with top executives from a variety of these companies, places, including Walt Disney and Kaiser about vaccine mandates. And it's one of these things where there's a bit of a charm offensive from the White House to try to say, “Hey, let's all get on board here.” But I think most major global companies are getting on board. They have much more flexibility in having their own employer mandates than the government has in doing mandates. It's basically, the CEO says let's do it, it's done. And so I think it's one of these interesting times where certainly on the show, we have a healthy critique of the way that corporations lead and don't lead in the political sphere. But here, there seems to be a growing consensus among large companies, small ones are going to vary.
Haines: Okay. Last question for both of you. Jess, you first. Will mandating vaccines work in the U.S. or is it just going to further polarize the country?
I think this could be kind of one of those things where you know like when you're a kid and you didn't want to eat mushrooms and you thought eating mushrooms was the absolute worst thing. And it was like, so gross and oh my God, how dare she? And you have like a huge temper tantrum. And then eventually your mom makes you eat a bite of mushrooms and like, actually it's fine. And it might even taste really good. I think that's vaccines in this country. I ultimately think once people take the vaccines and they don't die and they don't get COVID and their family members don't get COVID that they will sort of have a begrudging acceptance of vaccines themselves. And people will then suddenly remember that you have to get vaccines to go to school and you are perfectly fine and nothing's happened to you and it's not a big government conspiracy. I do think that there is a group of people that are always going to see the vaccines as a stand-in for everything else that's going on in politics in this country. And among those people, I think that vaccinations will calcify. There are sort of hate and mistrust, and that is scary, and we should be really wary of that. But I don't know that there is a way around it.
Haines: Farai, your thoughts.
Chideya: Well, one thing I heard from one of the many people we talk to in public health is that sometimes these mandates give people permission. Let's say that you are part of a polarized family where some people want to be vaccinated and others don't. If you have been trying to stay out of it and both sides within your family, finally, you can say, “Well, you know, I have to, it's my job.” So there are people who are really strongly anti-vaccine, then there are other people who are in a social context, surrounded by people in their family, their church, their neighborhoods that are anti-vaccine. And for some of them, they may use these mandates as a way to just sort of go with the flow. And so I think a lot of what we're seeing with vaccinations is psychology.
Haines: Vaccines, the mushrooms of our society.
Chideya: I like mushrooms. I am pro mushroom. I'm voting for the mushrooms in the next recall.
Haines: Mushrooms are delicious. So I mean, look, roughly 80 million Americans who are eligible for shots have not gotten them. Jess, I think what you were speaking to earlier, a lot of folks in the medical community, especially African American experts that I talk to talk not necessarily about vaccine hesitancy, but about vaccine deliberation, they're saying as the phrase that we should use. Because that is what has happened. People are trying to make informed choices. The President was saying that he was hopeful after Pfizer received its official approval that that would maybe get some people across the finish line who were still trying to decide whether or not they were going to get a vaccine. And listen, I mean, the way that a lot of folks direct deposits are set up, the more companies that make this mandatory, I'm sure that is going to make some folks who may have been on the fence, go ahead and say that they need to do this so that they can remain employed. Right? I mean, people are wanting this economy to stay open. People are wanting to be able to go back to work and we, as a country are going to have to figure out how that can and vaccinations just seem to be the main way that that is going to be accomplished. So we're going to have to wrap it up here, but it was nice talking with you as always, Farai and Jess.
Chideya: It was absolutely delightful.
Thank you. So fun. Glad to be back as always.
Chideya: That was Jess Morales Rocketto, civic engagement director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Errin Haines, editor-at-large at The 19th.
Chideya: 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 LWC. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya. Juleyka Lantigua is executive producer. Jen Chien is executive editor. Our senior producers are Paulina Velasco and Sara McClure. Cedric Wilson is lead producer, and mixed this episode. Our political booker is Bridget McAllister. Emily Daly is assistant producer. Original music by associate sound designer, Kojin Tashiro. Production assistance from Mark Betancourt and Veda Chand. This program is produced with support from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, the Harnisch Foundation, Compton Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, Katie McGrath and J. J. Abrams Family Foundation, the BMe Community, and from generous contributions from listeners like you.
Chideya, Farai, host. “The January Insurrection According to Rep. Pramila Jayapal, What Families Need to Know about Covid in Kids, and Our Roundtable Debates AOC’s Met Gala Moment.” Our Body Politic, Diaspora Farms LLC. September 17, 2021. https://our-body-politic.simplecast.com/