In This Episode
DeRay, Kaya, and De’Ara cover the underreported news of the week — Republicans plan to release Black youth criminal records, corporations infiltrate primary care services, and the harmful effects of Biden’s open border on Black communities. DeRay interviews award-winning author Jonathan Eig about his new book King: A Life.
[AD BREAK] [music break]
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, this is the DeRay and welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode it’s me, Kaya, and De’Ara talking about all the unreported news in the past week with regard to race, justice and equity. And then I sit down with the award winning author Jonathan Eig to talk about his newest book, King: A Life. Here we go. [music break]
De’Ara Balenger: Family. Welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. I am De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on Instagram at @dearabalenger
Kaya Henderson: I’m Kaya Henderson. You can find me on Twitter at @HendersonKaya
DeRay Mckesson: This is DeRay at @deray on Twitter.
De’Ara Balenger: Lots going on. Lots going on as we kick off this hot summer. Um. We were going to start kind of and just get the ick out of the way and talk about the CNN town hall that happened with Mr. Trump. Um. I watched it in its entirety. I don’t know why. I don’t know why. But once I was in it, I was yelling at the TV like I’d never heard this man speak before. And I think what was even I think what I was also surprised by was the aftershow and how the panels were getting the GOP folks on those panels outwitted and outdid the Democrats on those panels to such a way that I just was like, did we not have a meeting before the meeting? What is happening? There’s a [?]–
DeRay Mckesson: Wait explain the–
De’Ara Balenger: I guess there’s a senator–
DeRay Mckesson: –explain the panels.
De’Ara Balenger: –from South Carolina, and I’ll find his name.
DeRay Mckesson: Can you explain the panels? Explain the panels De’Ara.
De’Ara Balenger: It’s okay–
DeRay Mckesson: I don’t remember the panels.
De’Ara Balenger: Yes. So, like, CNN had two sets of panels after um after, after the town hall. Right. So one panel, I mean, it’s literally every political speaking head that works at CNN was on the panel from like um from Anderson Cooper to Van Jones, etc.. So there’s two panels and on both panels from my perspective, more so the Van Jones panel, they just got dominated by this uh this Black senator that was representing the GOP. I don’t know if he’s a states, don’t know if he’s in a state Senate or what I will I will find his name. Um. But I think what was so troubling to me is how on top of their talking points they were and how the Democratic representatives were kind of scrambling to find their answers. We just got to get it together. We’re happy to host a meeting for y’all and to do a brainstorm session with y’all. Care of Pod Save the People. Just let us know how we can be helpful. But I think, you know, there’s no need to go in and maybe we want to but Trump said the same old things. He’s still not saying that the that the election was free and clear. He’s still not saying whether or not he’s going to exonerate the proud boys that were uh convicted last week. And and the person that they chose. I know she’s getting a lot of backlash uh for her performance, but I mean, they sent her into the lion’s den. They really did. So that’s that’s my hot take on that.
Kaya Henderson: I didn’t watch it because mmm I don’t know. I’m sure I was busy doing something else. And I love the fact that we so rarely hear from your former president. But I did see a ton of the backlash asking real questions around why CNN gave him this platform at this particular point, um especially given all of his derogatory comments about CNN and the liberal media. And so I I don’t you know, again, I haven’t thought about this too much, but why do you think CNN gave him this opportunity? What’s in it for them?
DeRay Mckesson: The Chris Licht said it. The guy who runs CNN was like, you know, we made news. He was like, it was we made the conversation and everybody was like, your job is to report on what happened and to–
Kaya Henderson: Right. Not make it.
DeRay Mckesson: –make sure people. Yeah. Not make it not to be the news.
Kaya Henderson: Mm hmm.
DeRay Mckesson: You know, I did watch it. And I will say that that reporter, De’Ara I don’t know. I you know, she was, Trump is hard but this is not like the last time where we didn’t know, like, you didn’t know what Trump was like. You know, there were some unknowns this time. It’s like we we did it for years of this wildness. Like, you got to get somebody who really can manage him and he just out, that reporter was like, she might as well not have been there because he just was running circles around her. And it was scary to hear that audience like laugh and clap at the bigoted stuff. The you’re like, ooh, what is going on on CNN? Um it was really wild to watch like it was. Yeah, but you see what Chris Licht, the guy who runs CNN, was just straight up like we were here at a you know, we people watched it and we made news or like we made the news. Like, that’s really wild, I do think more people are in tune to like, he’s sort of off. The question is like who’s voting is obviously like is like the big question. And like you said, De’Ara we are just playing two different games. Trump is playing a whole different game than the left is playing and he is running circles, lied about everything and but he wants you to fact check him so he can just say it with a bigger chest, you know, like, that’s the whole that’s the whole game. And I still think that AOC is probably one of the clearest communicators on the left. It’s just clear you ain’t got to like her. You ain’t got to believe it. Oh, some people think she’s too far da da da da da. But you can’t say you don’t understand what she’s saying. She is just clear and you’re like, yes, we need more of that. And what’s going on with Biden’s team, by the way? You know, I’m all about retiring when you want to retire–
Kaya Henderson: Whew chile.
DeRay Mckesson: I’m all about like go out with grace like, I get it. But this is bigger than you and you not coming to work is screwing up some of the game and you’ve done it. It’s not like this is your first 10 minutes. You have had a huge long legacy. Sorry that that ain’t got nothing to do with what we was talking about, but I’m a put it in there.
Kaya Henderson: But but I want to pick up on that because, the I mean, we just had an amazing example of this with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who refused to retire and messed us all up on this Supreme Court. And now Dianne just move out the way. What is with you I mean, and again, we talked about this, I don’t know, last week or two weeks ago, right? I get the feminist argument that if she was a man, we wouldn’t be talking about this or whatever, whatever. This is not about feminism or anything else. This is about power, how you use it, how you use it for good, and how you get I mean, I I’ve said this before, like, I think it is such an indicator of an unhealthy country when all of the folks running the country are old. Y’all, we got to do something. Come on, young people. I got more trust and belief in y’all than I do in these fogies. So come through, run. Do the thing. Let us vote for you. Let’s get some new blood in the place.
De’Ara Balenger: And just so we’re all on the radar about homeboy, homeboy to watch for. Byron. He’s a congressman. Byron Donalds, Florida. Just look him up. Lord have mercy. Mmm mmm mmm Um. Well, taking us–
Kaya Henderson: [?].
DeRay Mckesson: Wait wait and you said you said Donalds was. He was wrong, but a good communicator?
De’Ara Balenger: He’s an excellent communicator for the GOP and had everybody–
DeRay Mckesson: Okay.
De’Ara Balenger: –ah ah ah ah ah ah. So he’s he’s definitely somebody that we need to have some visibility on, um particularly as this campaign gets started and we need to win Florida.
DeRay Mckesson: Oh, apparently he was um. Wait did they say he’s from um, he’s from Crown Heights. Now, this man, no, he is he was a member of the Tea Party. De’Ara not that is [laughter] how is this Black man a member of the Tea Party?
De’Ara Balenger: And Enrique from the Proud Boys, you see, and Enrique’s in the slammer now, so and he–
Kaya Henderson: Mmm.
De’Ara Balenger: He needs to take a lesson.
DeRay Mckesson: That is wild. Oh, he’s the Black guy who ran for speaker of the House against Kevin McCarthy.
De’Ara Balenger: Mm.
Kaya Henderson: Oh, ay yi yi. But in more positive news. De’Ara what you got?
DeRay Mckesson: I want to go where the people are. Halle did her big one with this song. [laughter] Y’all, she did that. If you have you have not seen her American Idol performance of Under The Sea? Y’all you got to get it. She did it. She did it with that.
De’Ara Balenger: We promise. It does not sound like that. It is really, [laughter] really really beautiful. It’s also one of those things where I realized that you just need that injection of joy every now and then. And for whatever reason, that song, like, nostalgically just does that for me. And then hearing her beautiful, sweet self sing that song, I was like, oh, this is delightful. I feel like I might need to listen to this every morning.
Kaya Henderson: I love it. I love the memories that it brings. I love that a whole new generation of little girls and little boys um and little people are going to have access to this. Um. Can I just say one other thing that is slightly off topic, just because we talked about it last week, but y’all speaking of she did that. That was, I think, the the call to action last week, right, DeRay? Um. We talked about Bridgerton and I finally watched Queen Charlotte and oh, my soul, y’all. Mmm that was–
DeRay Mckesson: It’s that it’s that show. Shonda did it?
Kaya Henderson: It is, Shonda did it, honey. Six episodes of pure genius. Pure entertainment.
DeRay Mckesson: Shonda did the thing. Did the thing.
Kaya Henderson: Honey child, I’m about to watch the whole six episodes all over again because they were that good.
DeRay Mckesson: I love it.
Kaya Henderson: Yum. Watch it. Okay. Anyway, other people are doing other crazy things on not the TV, on the Instagram live. Ja Morant. What in the world, y’all? Did you see that this brother done got him a whole another suspension for waving around a gun? Because the last suspension for waving around a gun I guess was not enough. But here he is on Instagram live in a car, singing a rap song, waving his gun around because that’s how you enjoy your music, right? And his friends. I say “friends” in air quote, because how is it that I could get in trouble for something and you post on your Instagram live the same thing that I just got in trouble for me, I’m the problem for sure, because I should not be waving a gun around. But what friends do I have that are posting this on Instagram? What in the world?
De’Ara Balenger: And I’m confused because I thought they started common sense school in the NBA. Like–
Kaya Henderson: Oh maybe–
De’Ara Balenger: –it’s where you learn about the common sense. You learn what to do with your money. You learn not to have an entourage of 100 people. I thought that was a school that folks like actually had to enroll in and graduate from. I guess not so anymore.
DeRay Mckesson: Well, I’m a um I’m a Ja Morant defender. [sounds of shock and surprise] [?] [laughter] It’s legal to have guns.
Kaya Henderson: Do defend, do defend.
DeRay Mckesson: It’s legal to have guns in the state that he’s in. I also don’t know um what he’s being suspended from because the season’s over. So, you know, I don’t really know what that suspension means.
Kaya Henderson: From a paycheck!
DeRay Mckesson: But obviously–
Kaya Henderson: Because ain’t your paycheck year round? [laughter]
De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. They [?].
DeRay Mckesson: Come on, let me [?] this way. Um. Yeah. I mean, it’s wild that he’s waving the gun. You’re like, Ja, what are you doing? He he gives me big bored energy. He gives me like, I’m bored, and which is no excuse–
Kaya Henderson: No.
DeRay Mckesson: –when I see him.
Kaya Henderson: No, no, no, no, no. It’s not bored energy, because he also got into a gun altercation with the young–
DeRay Mckesson: Oh with the little boy.
Kaya Henderson: –man who came to his house, the recruit like this to me I think this cat is signaling that there is a real problem and somebody needs I, his mom and his daddy be on the sidelines all the time screaming and hollering like we–
DeRay Mckesson: You think there’s a problem?
Kaya Henderson: I think we need to–
DeRay Mckesson: Like it just gives me–
Kaya Henderson: –surround [?] we need to the village needs to surround this young man before he–
DeRay Mckesson: With love.
Kaya Henderson: –wrecks himself honey, because this is–
DeRay Mckesson: You’re, Okay. I don’t know when I see him. I just see like ton of money out here just doing whatever and not even thinking about it. And I mean, it’s still a problem. It is just so I think the second one, I’m like, you couldn’t have done that, did you? Are you trying to get suspended? And just like-
Kaya Henderson: Right!
DeRay Mckesson: –maybe you are trying to get put out of the league because you have to know after the first one. And then, remember he went for rehab. He like–
Kaya Henderson: Yes, he–
DeRay Mckesson: –took a break.
Kaya Henderson: –went to. He went to rehab and said he understands–
DeRay Mckesson: For the first time waving the–
Kaya Henderson: –his bad decisions and blah, blah, blah. Yikes.
DeRay Mckesson: He has a daughter, too. You know, you’re like, Ja, what are you doing? I want him to I want him to win. I hope he like–
Kaya Henderson: Me too.
De’Ara Balenger: And I just feel like in my–
DeRay Mckesson: –gets it together.
De’Ara Balenger: In my hot girl days when I [laughter] wanted to be wild and get in the club [?]–
DeRay Mckesson: You were not waving guns girl.
De’Ara Balenger: [?]–
Kaya Henderson: Tell us about it.
De’Ara Balenger: Exactly exactly me [laughter] and with the gun in a situation is not ideal, right? So I just feel like when you knucking and you bucking, you got some drinks going, you popping bottles, the last thing anybody needs is a firearm.
Kaya Henderson: I’m with that.
De’Ara Balenger: Like c’mon.
DeRay Mckesson: It’s also, he is wealthy enough to have a bodyguard who has a gun so [laughter] he doesn’t need–
Kaya Henderson: Yes.
DeRay Mckesson: –you’re like Ja c’mon. Why have you got that? I know, but I like him. I want him to win so.
Kaya Henderson: I like him too.
DeRay Mckesson: Ja. Please get some help.
Kaya Henderson: That’s why I’m calling on the aunties and the uncles to swoop in there and get that young man.
DeRay Mckesson: You see this, everybody? She did not call on the police to intervene. She said I–
Kaya Henderson: I sure didn’t.
DeRay Mckesson: –want the aunties and the uncles to come in. That was, you know, we modeling on the podcast for you. [laugh].
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere, more Pod Save the People’s coming.
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De’Ara Balenger: So my news is from Newsweek, which is sort of unclear about where Newsweek is headed editorially. Um. But this the article it’s more of an op-ed, um and it’s about how the crisis at the border and immigration is really impacting Black people negatively. And this the context of this is in Chicago. A lot of migrants have gone to Chicago. And it’s also in lieu of um of Title 42 expiring and uh Biden not reinstating that. And to remind everybody, Title 42 is basically this policy that Trump put in place that if there is a kind of a health crisis happening, that you can stop people from crossing, you can kind of delay people’s asylum seeking. So that has ended. And there has been an influx of people that, you know, there’s already a ton of people at the border that are just kind of waiting and sitting there. And now there’s been a further influx of that. But what’s fascinating, and that is what’s happening in Chicago, is that Black people are enraged and saying build the wall, saying that they don’t want migrants, asylum seekers in Chicago, in their neighborhoods, and that Black and that Latino people or migrants are basically draining resources that should go to Black people. Now, this is all very complicated. And I think there’s also there’s just like a history and context of the violence and tension going on in Chicago between Black people and Latino people, particularly Black folks and Mexican folks. Um. And we didn’t cover this on the pod. But as I was digging around in 2020, um during all of the George Floyd uprisings in Chicago. There were certain neighborhoods where Latino people were targeting Black people essentially like trying to, in their mind, preventing them from looting, but actually like finding them or going after them um and being violent and doing awful things. Right. So I think this is this goes, this issue has gone is going way, way, way back. But what we’re seeing is that it is just it’s exploding, right? Um. So I don’t know. I just wanted to bring it to the pod. I’m still trying to, like, [laugh] actually process it and figure out really how to be thoughtful about what’s happening. And I think this for me comes from a very personal place, because there have there have been any number of circumstances where I’m with Black people and they don’t realize I’m part Mexican. And so they have a lot of negative and biased things to say about Latino people or Mexican people. And it’s also my experience with the Latino community that they’re not always welcoming to me because I present as Black. So it’s just an interesting thing. And even more interesting as we go into this election. And it just seems like we’re not aligned on like who the true enemy, so to speak, is. And instead this culture of going after people who are actually similar, similarly situated as you um and it not getting anybody anywhere. So. Yeah. I mean, I don’t even know if the op the op-ed is just, like, weird and biased and not helpful um and actually pretty much is inciting the very thing that I’m talking about. Uh. But I wanted to bring it to the pod as perspective. Because this is something that’s actually happening in real time. I also think part of the problem is that not enough is coming out of the White House in terms of how to deal with this massive, massive, massive issue. The the latest thing was for them to send the National Guard to the border, which isn’t helpful. Pao just covered a story on this young Black guy uh who’s part of the National Guard that actually drowned trying to save migrants because there’s no like, there’s it’s just. No, like nobody’s in charge down there. It’s just like, whatever. Um. So, wanted to bring this to the pod, just to talk it through and get y’alls perspective on it.
DeRay Mckesson: De’Ara this is one of those things too where I realize that I don’t know as mu– so I know a lot about the police and prisons and jails. I don’t know. I’m not an expert on anything related to immigration. Like, I you know, I know about ICE. That’s as far as I would be like I know because they’re the police. And you’re right that the storytelling around like Title 42. What should what should immigration look like? Da da da da da. Because I what I’ve heard more of against my will is the stealing the jobs and da da like that message the GOP has churned it and I’m like I know that’s racist and bigot I know that’s not right. And I’ve heard it a ton. And you know, this is an aside to your piece because the the Newsweek article is a mess. But when I looked at the author, I’m like, you know, one of the worst parts of what happened with DEI is that everybody became an expert. Anybody like anybody who wakes up is now because she she runs like a therapy DEI service. You’re like, well, how are you the bigoted, DEI therapist. How does that work? But it really did open this window where, like every single person who just has a pulse is like suddenly an expert on DEI. And you’re like, well that, I don’t know if that was really what we were going for. And finally, to your point that and I think we saw this so clearly under Trump is that there’s a way to talk about immigration that really is code for only white people from certain countries. And there’s a way to talk about immigration that is understanding of a global world. And I don’t think the public language is there yet for people like it’s not there for people even like me to understand that really well. But I’ll never forget when Trump blocked all those countries on Twitter and then it was still white people immigrating and you’re like, well I thought we weren’t letting people in. Why are the people from Norway coming in you’re like–
De’Ara Balenger: Yup.
DeRay Mckesson: What’s going on? You know?
De’Ara Balenger: And DeRay to your point, guess, guess who was easily immigrating through? Russian immigrants who don’t want to fight in the war in Ukraine, having Pao did a story on VICE with them. Coming right on through. So the issue is that there and to be clear, yes, it’s Latinos at the border, but it’s also Haitians. It’s all like–
Kaya Henderson: Yes.
De’Ara Balenger: It’s brown and black people.
Kaya Henderson: Yup.
De’Ara Balenger: So and the other thing that I’ll say too DeRay, because I it it it lends itself to police is the governor basically has this thing called Operation Lonestar in place. So you can you can arrest migrants for trespass. And so they have local police officers, local sheriffs now engaging in immigration work because they’re arresting all these folks trespassing on people’s land, hundreds and hundreds of hundreds of people. We don’t know where they’re going, how they’re being held, held, then how they get into the proper immigration process. It is it’s a mess that is involving all types of levels of law enforcement and that I think if we we did have a larger conversation of what was happening there, I think to your point, Black folks, every every kind of folks would be like, we need [laugh] this is actually an issue that we all need to care about. We all need to do something about because it looks a hell of a lot like situations that have happened to us as a people.
Kaya Henderson: Um. I think it is important to recognize that this is not a Black versus Latino thing, because as you mentioned, De’Ara, there are lots of Black people who are immigrating, who are at the border, not just Haitians, but many Africans are coming to the United States um through the southern border. And I think, one, we all need a broader education about the immigration crisis, what is actually happening and what’s not happening. Um. I do think that it is, you know, everything that I hear people say, both Democrats and Republicans, is all of this is because our immigration system is broken. And but I don’t hear anybody saying, here’s a way to fix it. And so my big question, just as John Q. Citizen, is what is the longer term fix? Right? We’ve got an immediate short term crisis, but I actually don’t know what the like right longer term fix is that balances our history of being welcoming to immigrants. Immigrants built this country and continue to build this country and at the same time being cognizant of the impact of massive amounts of people coming into the U.S. um with that, the impact that that has on cities, I don’t think I mean, I was just talking to a friend who shared with me that some of our recreational facilities here in Washington are being turned into migrant centers and people don’t know what that like means for their neighborhoods. Right. And and absent clear information, fear mongering happens, NIMBY happens, all of these kinds of things happen. And so even in places that are trying to stand up and be sanctuary cities, it’s not just about providing the resources, providing I mean, we got housing issues in Washington, D.C. We got 10,000 homeless people, right? And now we’ve got an influx influx of new people. And people here are very concerned about the homeless situation, our ability our lack of ability to build affordable housing at the right rate. And they are rightly saying we want to be hospitable and all, but we can’t take care of our own people. And so what are we supposed to do about all of these new people? Those are real tensions for people. And so to the earlier comment about who’s a good communicator, like we actually need people who have the right messaging about the broader approach to immigration that we need to be taking and the very local impacts that are happening. I mean, what is most scary to me about this is this is a real opportunity for the Republicans to siphon off an even larger portion of the Black population in voting. Right. We we we’ve all been concerned about how many Black men have found the Republican messaging resonant and how they’re voting. And I think that, you know, this immigration argument that, you know, new people are siphoning off resources and taking jobs and and impacting long term residents is one that could very easily um resonate with the Black community and have people voting really differently than they probably should. So I think this is one to watch for sure. My news this week is um peeking around the corner of what is about to happen in health care in our country. We talk a lot on the podcast about all of the problems with our health care system and how they disproportionately impact leaders of color. Well, here comes a new one. Um. It seems that um multi billion dollar corporations, big corporate giants, are buying up primary care practices um in astounding numbers. And this will likely change the face of health care across America. Primary care doctors, as you know, are the folks that you see when you have a cold or a headache or your stomach hurts or for your annual physical, they are lower, generally the lowest paid doctors. They are the least glamorous, but they also see more people than any other doctors. Right? They usually see somewhere around 30 patients a day. And those numbers are driving uh these big corporations uh who see large paydays to snap up these primary care practices. In fact um, CVS Health, which, you know, mostly from its pharmacies, but what you may not know is they also own Aetna, which is one of the larger insurance companies in the country, just paid $11 billion dollasr for Oak Street Health, which is a primary care chain in 21 states. Amazon bought um One Medical, which is where I get my primary care from for $4 billion dollars. And what this is what what this is allowing it’s what this is enabling is um a system where your insurance and your medical provider and your pharmacy, your medicine distributor are all under one company. What that from a positive perspective, I guess you have more coordinated care. It’s easier to talk between these three systems um and in some cases it better serves underserved communities. Um. But the cons are, you know, a flashing billboard, higher prices. You know, the drive for profits over patient care. Running health care like a business when it’s not a business. Doctors talk about losing autonomy. They talk about having, you know, time limits around only being able to see a patient for 7 minutes because corporate efficiency kicks in. Right. And um this level of these the numbers of people that um primary care doctors see bring big business, big profits to um all of these folks who are looking to make more and more money. The other interesting twist in this is one thing that, you know, I think we don’t always understand how these things interact and overlap is that um Medicare is being privatized. You’ve heard the commercials on your TV and your radio for Medicare Advantage. What’s happening is Medicare beneficiaries can actually buy their health insurance um on the market. And there is about there are about 30 million Medicare folks, more than half of the beneficiaries who are taking advantage of that. That results in a $400 billion dollar spend from the feds. And these big companies are looking at that money. These big companies can access that Medicare Advantage money again, at the insurance level, at the doctor’s office level and at the pharmacy level. And so, um you know, it is it it the real implications are things like longer hours for doctors, crazy billing schemes to increase the amount of the federal reimbursement, like over diagnosing people so that you can get more money from the feds, um recruiting patients with goody bags and swag bags and stuff to come into your practice. So, like, I mean, you this is like a car wreck that you are watching that is about to happen. Um and it screams antitrust. It screams, you know, monopoly, collusion, whatever you want to call it. Um. Senator Elizabeth Warren is urging the FTC to look at these large deals closely for antitrust activity. Um, there are also state laws that prohibit what is called corporate medicine, where the company, the laws basically say that the company that employs doctors can’t interfere with patient treatment. But that’s not what’s happening in these large conglomerates who are literally dictating medical procedures and medical protocols. So, you know what it is, right? At the end of the day, these big companies are about profits over patient care. And um since they are scooping up all of these primary care networks, it stands to reason that it is likely that our health care system will be compromised in yet another way. And so I brought this to the podcast because I feel like this is one of those things that nobody’s paying attention to. It’s happening quietly, and we’re going to wake up and wonder why, you know, our health care system is even worse than it was before.
DeRay Mckesson: You know, what this made me think of Kaya, and you said all the big points is that I also think about what happens when these companies just decide to close or sell to an Elon Musk right like what happens when you know it works. It’s great. Twitter, great changed our lives in so many ways. Mine for sure, gets sold to Elon Musk on a Tuesday and then all of a sudden it’s a whole different ball game. You know, he’s letting Turkey shut down the the opposition Twitter accounts before the election. So you think about what happens when one of these companies just decides like, oh, we actually want to mail the government everybody who has abortion medication, we want to publicize in a way that like is not in violation to HIPAA, but skirts the line or is in violation of HIPAA. You get a fine who cares, like Elon Musk, is a great example of like who cares about the sanction. He’s breaking a ton of agreements. You know, he’s violating stuff every day, not paying the rent on buildings. And he’s sort of like, what are you going to do, fine me $20,000? Right? And that’s actually what scares me about this, because this is not you know, as much as I love Twitter, it is a tech platform. And we will you know, we’ll figure it out. But all of a sudden, if your doctors all get fired one Wednesday because Joe Schmo just decides that that is a whole different ballgame or or if one day, you know, some new rule comes and they can only spend 5 minutes with people instead of the 7 minutes it’s already shorter. Like the consequences of that seem just so intense, and it is such a good example of the danger of maximizing profits. And you know, I’ve been in a lot of rooms recently where people talk about what dominant culture is without having done the reading. Um. But this is this is actually a case study in dominant culture like where if uh where there’s urgency for efficiency’s sake, not for community. Like those sort of things are nailed here um in a way that you’re right Kaya, people aren’t, people don’t talk about these things until it’s too late.
De’Ara Balenger: And it’s also and I’ve been feeling this in the last few years too that it just all seems so corporatized. Like trying to get an appointment with your primary care doctor is like, you got to go through the portal, then you got to make a phone call. Then they tell you it’s going to be 3 to 6 months before you can see the it. You know, there is no people touch point around it. Right? And so much so for me, because I had long haul COVID, I had to I had to basically get a con– like a go to a doctor who I had to pay everything out of pocket. And I still pay every month for this doctor, but I can have a sinus infection and get her on the phone the same day and get a prescription and it be done with. And that’s how it should be [laugh] for everybody that is paying into this health care system. So this is. Yeah, it’s it’s not good and it’s very scary.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Stay tuned. There’s more to come. [music break]
DeRay Mckesson: So my news. You know, some days you’re like, wow, the world is sort of wild. And this is another one that like, who was paying attention to this? I wouldn’t have seen it if not for on Twitter, but in the great state of Louisiana, the House just passed a bill that will make um some juvenile records public. And what is this some you might ask? The some is that they’re in three majority Black parishes. And what the bill would do is that it would make the juvenile criminal records public in Caddo, East Baton Rouge and Orleans, which are 50, 47 and 60% black, respectively. Uh. And it would make their records public. And the way the racist lawmakers are framing this is that it would be a two year pilot program, and this is in the interest of public safety and that it will increase accountability, they say. And remember that the juvenile court records would not only include convictions, but also accused crimes, which is, you know, wild. And it’s like this idea that I don’t even know how they are like I, you know, I just gave you the words they’re using, but I don’t really know what even the stretch argument is for how that increases public safety. But um but notably, it would not be Jefferson Parish, which is majority white. And there a couple of things about this. One is that there is no way to pilot program making documents public. The moment you make everybody’s records public, they are always public. It just is what it is. So yet you pilot in the sense that you know, if you are accused or convicted of a crime and are a juvenile after those two years, it would not automatically be made public but everybody who has a record today, their stuff would be public. And there’s no way to put the genie back in the bottle once you do that. That is just is what it is. The second thing is that there’s really no public um safety benefit to knowing juvenile arrest records like what is, as a neighbor, what do you know differently when you’re googling like, I you know, what do you do to the or how do you treat the 14 year old different who was accused of a crime? Like what do they what does that even mean? I think that I spend my professional life preparing for things to happen and the criminal justice system pushing back on things. And then some things happen that are just so wild they confuse me, I’m like, this wasn’t even something I, this wasn’t what I anticipated. Not on the radar. The idea that now we have to fight juvenile crime records being public just seems wild in a way that I wanted to bring to the pod.
De’Ara Balenger: DeRay, it looks like last year in Louisiana. Children as young as ten with a history of assault were transferred to Angola, a former death row facility to sleep with windowless cells with floor to floor ceiling metal bars that locked them in. The conditions are more punitive than those at the state’s high security juvenile facilities where kids normally slept in dorms. So I think, one, the fact that this is a state that already that put babies in Angola is a problem. And then what’s also striking to me is we can’t get the records of police doing all kinds of crazy who knows what?
Kaya Henderson: Oooh, you better say it, girl. Mm.
De’Ara Balenger: But these babies, we get to see–
DeRay Mckesson: Come on.
De’Ara Balenger: We get to see their records. This is wild. This is wild.
Kaya Henderson: The woman who introduced it is uh it’s behind a paywall so I can’t see. But she’s a she’s a Repub– white Republican woman. And there are 64 parishes in Louisiana, and we are only talking about releasing these in three. Um I what I what was most like first of all, you know, these folks are they are empowered and they say what they want to say. And we they we’ve allowed them to gerrymander these places so that they have majorities in state houses and they could pass all of the crazy rules that they want to. We’re seeing this all over the place. So on the one hand, not surprised at how overtly racist this is. I think the question that this raised for me is, okay, what happens next, right? Crazy legislature, crazy legislators suggest bills that are, you know, all kinds of crazy all the time. What happens next? Who’s who’s voting? Um. How what’s the likelihood of this getting passed? Where’s the ACLU? Can they sue for a restraining order or like, what are the the mechanisms that we have in place to stop these shenanigans? Because this is just like this is so beyond the pale. I don’t even want to talk about like, oh, my God they’re so crazy. Nope, what are we going to do? Let’s talk action. How are we going to stop this from happening? How are we going to, you know, show the disparate impact? How are we going to, you know, get a, I don’t know, restraining order, what you talking about lawyer lady, what what what options do we [laughing] have to stop this thing from happening if it does get passed? First of all, how do we not pass it? And then second of all, how do if it does get passed, um how what recourse do we have to stop this thing from happening?
De’Ara Balenger: I think keep, number one, keeping these things on the radar is is crucial because I feel like places in Louisiana that don’t get a lot of national spotlight, the fact that they can can put ten year olds in that type of situation, which is clearly unconstitutional, it’s like you cannot do, you cannot do that. And thanks to Bryan Stevenson, that is like on the books, right? So I think part of it is like visibility when things like this are happening. But also, yes, I mean, the ACLU is going to be critical. And there’s another organization there, too, that I think is protecting children rights. That is also going to be critical. And and that’s typically what happens. Right? There’s a whole another um kind of arm of the movement that just focuses on juveniles, whether that’s Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, etc.. So I think part of it is I mean, it also almost takes me back to to the conversation around immigration. I just feel like so many of our movements are stratified and not on purpose, but more so it’s just kind of how whether it’s to streamline, whether that that’s how it happened organically. But I think part of the movement, even when we talk about Rikers, like there are young people there, like, how can we just be more expansive around how we’re talking about abolition? Like, what does that look like and how can we make sure that. Right. I mean, I think the assumption is we are talking about ten year olds. But but I don’t think um I don’t think in terms of of action necessarily, we are all together.
Kaya Henderson: One of the other things that I was just thinking about around this issue is we also have Repub, we have um zealous prosecutors who overcharge young people. Right. And and, you know, I know about this much about this stuff. This is your world DeRay, and your world De’Ara. But you know what if there is a kid who who was overly prosecuted and because this is not just about convictions, this is about accusations. You know, the prosecutor throws the book at the kid and now that stuff becomes public and that stuff attaches to kids when none of it may be true. How do like, this is so bananas?
De’Ara Balenger: It is and New Orleans and Louisiana, I think is is an interesting case study. They have some of the highest numbers of pretrial detention still to this day. And so I think part of it is just there’s so many broken parts of the system. Um. And then on top of that, I mean, you know, not only how New Orleans has been impacted post-Katrina, but even the decades and decades and decades before that. So I think it’s just such [?] it’s a it’s it’s not necessarily a complicated issue. We know why the system is what it is. But I think, Kaya, to your point around, who are the people who are the organizations, the entities that come together to help to solve it? I think that’s where the work needs to happen.
DeRay Mckesson: It is just such a you know, I think about these things as the like, it’s hard to unring the bell. It’s like you open the floodgates on these things uh and it just becomes really hard. And it’s like, I hope that this is the stuff that radicalizes people. When people are like, I don’t do politics. It’s like, y’all this is coming and it is wild. And like you said, Kaya they are emboldened.
Kaya Henderson: Mm hmm.
DeRay Mckesson: And and, you know, I think AOC, I’ve been on a AOC kick recently, but AOC had said something like, you know, we will win a street fight. Like when we fight, we win. Right. Like when we when we come out, like the numbers are on our side from a people perspective, we are right about the issues. The hard part is that our side doesn’t realize it’s a street fight often until too late.
Kaya Henderson: Hey! Uh uh.
DeRay Mckesson: And we are up here, you know, we out here sitting in the house being like, what they doing outside?
Kaya Henderson: Mm hmm.
DeRay Mckesson: Meanwhile, they now repaved the roads. They done took down the schools. You know, and then you come outside like, oh, snap. And it’s like, well, they didn’t, they got you, you know what I mean? [music break]
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: This week, we welcome award winning author Jonathan Eig to talk about his newest book, King: A Life. The biggest question diving into this book is what possibly can we know new about Dr. King? And here’s the thing. Not only did I learn more things about Dr. King, than any before, but I also was able to work through some myths. We talk about the pressures that came with 24 hour surveillance, the I Have a Dream speech and some more ideas about King’s radical racial politic. I learned a lot. You will, too. Here we go.
DeRay Mckesson: Jonathan, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Jonathan Eig: Happy to talk to you DeRay.
DeRay Mckesson: Okay, so let’s start with have you always cared about civil rights, history stuff? [laughter] Did you like stumble on a story one day and you’re like, okay, I want to tell these stories that haven’t been told? Was it like a teacher that pushed you? Like, how did you get to this work?
Jonathan Eig: Oh, man, that’s a great question. I got to go way back to childhood and think about that. Um. You know, I was born in ’64, so by the time I get to school, um King is already is already dead. But, you know, we’ve got bussing. My schools are integrated. I go to, I grew up in the suburbs of New York. Um. So I think um by the time I go to college, um you know, in the eighties, um these discussions are everywhere, right? Like, we’re living in the aftermath of the civil rights movement. So I just think that it was it was it was in the air in the seventies. And, you know, you couldn’t really grow up in the seventies without noticing that that something was going on and it wasn’t as clear cut maybe as it was for kids growing up in the sixties, when you could see King marching and you could see that on TV every night. Um. And I just went to college and found a professor who uh became a mentor to me Leon Forrest uh in the African American, he was the head of the African-American Studies department. So it just I don’t know that there’s any one answer to that, but it happened gradually. And I became a newspaper reporter and traveled to New Orleans, uh my first job out of college. And um, you know, a city that was predominantly Black and uh 10% of the city was living in public housing. And uh there’s just so many great stories to write about there. And I’ve just, you know, basically followed what I was curious about pretty much my whole career.
DeRay Mckesson: And how did you how did you get to King as a subject of your writing? I, we all got to King a certain way because, you know, you cannot live in America without dealing with Dr. King at some point around civil rights but but but you could have written about a host of things. How did you settle on Dr. King as a site of scholarly exploration?
Jonathan Eig: Well, that’s easy. Um. I was interviewing people for my Muhammad Ali book, and I realized these were people who knew Martin Luther King Jr. really well. And just out of curiosity, I would say to them at the end of the interview, So what was Martin Luther King like? You know, Dick Gregory, Harry Belafonte, Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson. I’m sitting in their houses or in their offices, and I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to say what was what was Martin Luther King like? Because I grew up with him as a as a holiday and as a monument. And to think of him as a real guy who took his shoes off and sat on the couch and listened to records uh who who smoked cigarettes in the airport, you know, hanging out, killing time between flights. Uh. That was just fascinating to me. And once I started doing that, I realized that time was running out, that that a lot of these people who knew him really well weren’t going to be around much longer. And I wanted to interview as many of them as I could. And then I decided to try to write a book about him because it hadn’t there hadn’t been a King biography in a really long time.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, let me start with the question that’s on everybody’s mind, which is what possibly could we learn new about Dr. King, given that we’ve all done book reports? Dr. King Day, everybody got an MLK Boulevard. [laughter] Like what, when you went into this, like, how would you answer? You know, because I know people are going to listen and be like, okay, we’re talking about Dr. King again. What could we possibly know that’s new?
Jonathan Eig: Everything. My God, we’ve we’ve treated him so badly in history.
DeRay Mckesson: Oh.
Jonathan Eig: You know, I don’t think that I ever read any of his work in school. When I was in school, um even in college, I wasn’t assigned to read his books. And my kids in public school here in Chicago, um in high school, they read a letter from Birmingham Jail. But that’s it. So they know that and they know I have a dream. And and King was so much more radical than we’ve been led to believe. He was so much more brave and he was so horribly victimized by our own government in ways that we don’t really begin to appreciate. So my number one job here was to humanize him, to show a much more intimate portrait so that you could see how he struggled, how he suffered, how hard this was on him, and how much he sacrificed, um but also to see that he’s much more radical than we give him credit for. You know, we tend to create this dichotomy that there’s King in one corner and Malcolm in the other, and that one of them was conservative and one of them was radical. But I say no. I said King was just as radical as any of our of our protest leaders, maybe more than most.
DeRay Mckesson: You know, one of the uh one of the lines in here from Baldwin about King that I had never heard, and I was like, whew, who knew there could be something fresh about Dr. King I’m like he did it. Jonathan did it. Uh. When Baldwin says he was more fearful than uh than people think he was.
Jonathan Eig: Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: What did that mean to you to include? Like, how do you think about that as like an arc in the King story?
Jonathan Eig: Well, King woke up every day aware that he could be killed because this was not speculation. His house had been bombed. His house had been shot at. He’d been stabbed in the chest. On top of that, he knew that J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI, was trying to get we’re trying to get um newspapers to publish stories about his about his scandals, about uh his his his love life, about his ties to communists. Every morning he woke up wondering if that was going to be the day that a newspaper published this story that was going to destroy his reputation. So he lived with a lot of fear. He lived with a lot of anxiety. He was hospitalized numerous times for exhaustion, is what they called it. But even Coretta referred to it as depression. So this was a guy who had to had not only had to put up with that, but but then had to somehow find the courage to go forward every day, to keep marching and to go more and more boldly you know when he could have scaled back, when he could have responded to that intimidation by by cutting back on his activities. He did the opposite. He he took on bigger and bigger issues. You know, segregation, not enough. I’m going to go after northern racism, too. I’m going to go after northern segregation. I’m going to go after, you know, uh militarization of our of our society. He followed his true beliefs in spite of all of that fear.
DeRay Mckesson: When you think about um the op-ed that you wrote about Hoover and [?] like making this point that it was, I think you [?] I tell me if I got it right that that like we over fixate on Hoover and don’t realize there was like an entire apparatus. A lot more people than Hoover who were undermining King. That is what I’m taking away from that. Yes?
Jonathan Eig: Yeah, 100%. We should focus on Hoover. Uh. We should take his name off of the FBI headquarters, for starters. He was a, a man who absolutely misused his power and used it um in racist uh you know un-American ways. But he was not alone. He had an entire FBI apparatus surrounding him. He had the support of members of Congress who knew exactly what he was doing. He had presidents and attorney generals signing off on what he was doing. And I would argue LBJ in particular was was complicit because LBJ was aware of every single move that that Hoover was making and was encouraging much of it.
DeRay Mckesson: One of the quotes, the quote that you include in the um New York Times op-ed really struck me. Uh. Let’s face it, King said in a phone call to Mr. Levison days before his assassination. We do have a great public relations setback where my image and leadership are concerned. He added, It will put many Negroes in the position of saying, well Martin Luther King is at the end of his rope. Um. Tragically, we know exactly how King felt because the FBI recorded his call. What was that conversation about?
Jonathan Eig: Stan Levison, one of King’s best friends and closest advisers, was telling him to that he thought the speech at Riverside Church in opposition to the Vietnam War was a mistake. And he said, it didn’t sound like you and it’s going to cost us support in the north. Um. It doesn’t really fit your brand essentially, is what he was saying. And King is saying, haven’t you been paying attention to me all these years? Haven’t you heard what I’ve been saying? This was never limited to busses in the South or voting rights. This was never limited to race even. This was about fulfilling the words of the of the Bible. This is about the teachings of Jesus Christ. This is about standing up for what I believe in. I can’t call out police brutality if I don’t call out other kinds of violence too and our government is the greatest perpetrator of violence on the earth right now. So if I’m not going to call out that stuff, I’m a hypocrite. That’s basically what King was saying. And Levison was also warning him that he was going to destroy any chance of cooperation from President Johnson at that point because King was attacking this war in Vietnam. And King was saying, I don’t care. I’ve got to do what I believe is right.
DeRay Mckesson: You know, there’s a part of the book that um that reminds me of a conversation I had with King’s barber in Montgomery. Random, he was like, in Baltimore at the it was like the heart of the protests. They’re like DeRay, can you come be in conversation with King’s barber in Montgomery.
Jonathan Eig: [laugh] I know the barber. And a–
DeRay Mckesson: Ah see?
Jonathan Eig: And I interviewed him and he’s he’s fantastic.
DeRay Mckesson: And what he says is he–
Jonathan Eig: Nelson Malden.
DeRay Mckesson: –was like he was like I, he was like, I will never forget seeing him the first time because it was this guy who just like he just had it. He was like, I remember we were all packed in the church and we, like, listened and I just had never heard that before. He was like, I was there when Dr. King became Dr. King. And I think about um page 145 of of your book going into 146, where you say the crowd thundered its approval. I was in the street. I couldn’t get close to the church, said WillaDean Malden. Who was 14 years old at the time. You could hear the voice of Martin Luther King all over the neighborhood. I’d never heard of Martin Luther King. It was just a shocking experience to hear someone relate to the people like that and hear the reaction. The words just made so much sense. You didn’t know why, but you felt something different. On this night, King found a new voice he discovered or sensed that his purpose was not to instruct or educate. His purpose was to prophesize. I like hadn’t thought about it like that.
Jonathan Eig: Yeah. When you think about why King? Why is he the one who becomes the nationwide leader of this movement, of this call for justice? Um. And by the way, that quote was from uh WillaDean Malden, who’s the barber’s wife. Um. And–
DeRay Mckesson: Look at that. See [?].
Jonathan Eig: Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: That’s great.
Jonathan Eig: You got it man. You you uh you threaded that beautifully, um but what I was going to say is that King had a special gift that fit perfectly for this moment. He was not only a great speaker. He was using his voice to tie together this call for justice with the themes in the Bible, with the themes in the Constitution. So of course, it made perfect sense, and it made sense to white people in the North too. Maybe not yet to white people in the south or not too many of them. But it was a voice that sounded good, that made sense, and it called on values we could almost all agree on. Democracy, religion, it was very hard to dismiss a guy like that, no matter how much racism you’ve got, you know, flowing through your bloodstream.
DeRay Mckesson: I love that. I was like I was like, here we go. Now, why did you you know at the beginning of the book, you include a lot about a Senior, King’s dad. Senior King, I don’t know what am I suppose to call him?
Jonathan Eig: Daddy King.
DeRay Mckesson: King Senior. Daddy King. Uh. Why was he a central character in this story to you?
Jonathan Eig: I think Daddy King is a is a great American hero. He’s born into sharecropping. He’s he’s the son of uh someone who was born into slavery. And his father’s been wrecked by by the racism of the South in Stockbridge, Georgia, 20 miles outside of Atlanta. His father is an alcoholic who’s abusive. But Daddy King leaves the farm at the age of 12, moves to Atlanta, gets a job working at the railroads, eventually teaches himself to read and write, becomes a preacher, marries into another preacher’s family, and sets the groundwork for Martin Luther King to be Martin Luther King. Um. Daddy King is fighting for the same things, the best tools he’s got at his disposal, But he’s preparing to grow, to raise, you know, Martin Luther King, along with with his wife, Alberta, who’s also a formidable figure. But uh Daddy King’s story, to to to make that big a leap from the absolute poorest conditions you can come up in, some of the most racist discriminatory conditions you can come up with and to raise a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Uh. I just think, you know, we should be we should be writing operas about Daddy King. He’s an incredible figure.
DeRay Mckesson: And I love um I hadn’t heard I hadn’t read sort of quotes from Alberta before until um until this book. Can you talk to us about the inclusion of d– the Dealey Cooksey story and like why this was another story that I hadn’t, this wasn’t a name that I had known anything about before I read your book.
Jonathan Eig: Um. Again, this gets back to King and his voice and how it resonated with people. Um. Dealey Cooksey was a maid working in Montgomery, just one of the hundreds of thousands of people who were walking to work every day, refusing to ride the bus. And luckily for us, there were some sociologists from Fisk University who went down there and just interviewed everybody inside, interviewed white bus drivers, interviewed the police, white police officers, interviewed the Black people who were walking to work every day. And they interviewed Dealey Cooksey. And she described a confrontation with her white employer risking her job. This white employer said, why don’t you just get back on the bus Dealey? You know, why don’t you? You know, don’t you realize that this young preacher, this Martin Luther King, is is leading you people into trouble? And Dealey Cooksey just exploded at her white employer and said, don’t you talk about Dr. King. God sent Dr. King. Don’t you ever talk about him that way? Almost as if you know, her own you know mother or her own father had been offended. And I think it just shows the impact that he had. You know, the people of Montgomery were united. They were they were willing to sacrifice so much to stand up to the to the city in refusing to ride those busses. But I’m not sure that they would have had that same sense of purpose if they hadn’t heard the voice of Martin Luther King, Jr.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, I’m going to skip to today and then and then come back is, you know, given that you’ve studied this style of leadership in this moment so much, what are the what do we take away from it in the fight today, given that the, you know, technology has changed the way that people come you know, we’re not in the ba– we don’t need to be in the basements of the church to hear the oratory anymore. We don’t have to stand in the street to get the message or pass out pamphlets because we have Twitter. And [?], what are the lessons from this moment that that we should be thinking about or the leadership lessons of Dr. King that we missed when we talk about him in the in the public conversation?
Jonathan Eig: Wow. You know, it’s it’s certainly harder today. And I think the fact that we don’t get together on the streets, that we don’t um come together even in church every Sunday, you know, when Dr. King um emerged as a as a national force, um two thirds of all Americans belonged to um a religious organization. And half–
DeRay Mckesson: Whoa.
Jonathan Eig: –of all Americans were in church on any given Sunday. So you had a collective body of people who, if you could reach them, if you could move them, they heard you, they followed, and they were united by this sense of community. And that’s gone today. You know, where if we’re if we’re if we’re acting at all, we tend to be doing it over Twitter and Instagram. And it’s hard to rally a sense of community. You know, we felt it for a little while in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder. You know, here in Chicago, um we were out in the streets together and there was a feeling that that we could keep it going, that we could really um come together. And it’s just harder. I don’t know um if maybe if we found somebody who spoke to us and united us and united Black and white and north and south in the way King did, if anybody could have that kind of impact again today, um maybe that maybe it we could still see that kind of response. I just I think it’s gotten a lot harder, though.
DeRay Mckesson: You know when I got to Alabama Moses, uh which is a chapter in the book, Alabama’s Moses. Sorry. I wanted to ask you, how did you what was your understanding of how he processed um I don’t even know if fame is the right word because it feels that feels like insufficient to describe the gravity of it all. But like the weight of that visibility, how do you do we have any indication or good indication of of what that how he how that sat with him? Was that the cause of the depression? Was it like, I don’t know. Like I’m interested in that.
Jonathan Eig: That’s interesting. You know, he writes to some of his college professors in those early years that people are expecting too much of me. Um. You know, he’s 26 years old when he uh becomes the national leader of this movement and um he’s you know, he’s he’s flying by the seat of his pants. He’s making it up as he goes along. So Montgomery worked. What are we going to do now? Um. Well, let’s form this national religious organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Let’s let’s try leading a protest in Albany, Georgia. Um. But it’s there’s no plan. There’s no strategy. There’s not much funding behind it. And I think he’s nervous. I think he’s full of anxiety, like people are counting on me and I don’t know what to do. And what he does is he throws himself in to chaotic situations. He takes chances. He’s willing to put his body on the line, and he realizes that his power is really his ability to draw national attention, to draw the media and to force these these moral conflicts and to try to illustrate to the world that there’s a battle going on here between right and wrong, and that the protesters are on the side of justice. And that’s where he can be that lightning rod. But it’s not easy and he’s never really comfortable in that position.
DeRay Mckesson: And as we started this conversation, why do you think that people use him as the soft protester in juxtaposition to Malcolm X and, you know, the Black Panthers and, da da like he becomes the like, you know, Kumbaya guy? [laugh] Why do you think that is?
Jonathan Eig: Well, in part, it’s because he seems conservative, right? He dresses conservatively. He’s a church leader. He’s a religious man. He’s calling for nonviolence. And he’s meeting with the president. Right. He’s got the president’s phone number. Um. So he wants to effect change through the proper channels. And he’s not calling for a revolution, he’s not calling as Malcolm X, under the Nation of Islam is calling for Black separatism. He’s not saying he wants to overthrow American society, he’s saying he wants to join it. He just wants to be treated like an equal. So that to some people is perceived as as conservative. Um. You know, I would say that it’s a brand of radical illness, that um it’s in some ways more radical because he’s uh he’s a he’s pushing for real change. He’s not just you know flapping his gums.
DeRay Mckesson: You know, I had heard that the FBI recorded the calls, but it wasn’t until reading this book, I’m like, whew, they recorded a lot of I mean they, I’m like, how do I know that on July 26th, he said this to Bayard Rustin. I’m like, this is wild that we have all these conversations. But it was interesting to read um Rustin being like, you know, don’t get arrested. You know, don’t get like sort of people pushing, in this conversation, Rustin says, or [?] Rustin said, don’t do that Martin. No, sir. You have to be free to make a statement to the press and what you, like it’s interesting to I feel like as somebody who is an activist, we don’t always get to see the behind the scenes of how the, we we know so little about how they made the decisions. We just know the decisions. Right?
Jonathan Eig: Right. And King was being criticized on all sides. You know, uh people came from all over the country to join him in Selma. And then he he turned around and didn’t cross the bridge the first time. And people called him a you know a chicken for that. And he had advisors like Bayard Rustin, who was one of the boldest and and and fiercest uh radicals of our of that era. And he’s saying, no, you can’t go to jail. You’ve got to do this lawfully. You’ve got to do this legally. So King could never please everybody. But one of the things I love about King is that he’s listening to everybody. You know, he easily could have separated himself from Stokely Carmichael, but he enjoyed listening to and arguing with Carmichael. He he relished the opportunity to engage with people who felt differently with him. That’s why I think you know he and Malcolm um probably would have gotten along really well if they’d spent more time together, because King was always looking to learn. Um. And he did and he didn’t judge.
DeRay Mckesson: I’m interested in in the the circle around King. How did your King research inform or maybe change or stretch your impression of people like Abernathy or Rustin or Young? You know, like, what did you come out being like, okay, this is what I thought. I thought Rustin might, I came in thinking Rustin was probably going to be like this. I [?] Rustin was like this, you know, like, I would love to know about the people around him.
Jonathan Eig: It was a circus around King. You know, he he would let anybody in. Anybody who seemed to have something to offer, including people who were, you know, certifiably nuts like like James Bevel. Um. That guy was you know, even Andrew Young said he might have been clinically insane, um but and King wanted all their ideas and he recognized that they all had something to some way to serve. And that, you know, Andrew Young, for example, was was kind of the um the voice of reason. And King would use him to try to calm down the people who were more extreme. King had a very unusual approach to leadership in that way. He really didn’t like making decisions. He liked to let everybody hash it out and then see where the consensus would fall and and then take it that way. And that’s often why so many different things were tried. Like if you look at Birmingham, for example, um you know, while King’s in jail. Um. Andrew Young is kind of in the lead, but it’s um others who are really pushing the marches forward and pushing them more aggressively. It’s James Orange who was recruiting students. You know, they run out of people to march in Birmingham and they start going after high school students, which some people say is, you know, even Malcolm X criticized that, saying, you know, we don’t put our children’s lives on the line. Um. And all this stuff is happening because King has this very loose style of leadership that he’s willing to let others. He’s kind of like, you know, Duke Ellington. I think, you know, he he runs it. He runs. He’s definitely in charge, but he’s counting on the talents of the people around him to to make their voices heard.
DeRay Mckesson: And can you talk about Rustin? I am selfishly interested in Rustin. Did you did you did you did you leave thinking what you came in with with Rustin?
Jonathan Eig: No, I came away, you know, loving Rustin even more, although I was a little frustrated at how conservative he became toward the end. And he takes a job um working for the for the labor unions. And I think he becomes even more conservative at that point. And maybe it’s just a factor of age, um because I’m certainly not questioning Rustin’s um bravery. Um. He’s a fantastic figure, and I think he’s one of King’s most important teachers. And he gets down to Montgomery before just about anybody else and offers his services. And King to his credit, I mean, everybody knows that he’s gay and that he’s got a communist background and that he’s going to be bad publicity. And King is warned to keep his distance and Rustin actually volunteers to go to go to Birmingham and work from there just so he’ll be out of sight. Maybe people won’t notice him as much. Um. But, you know, King really sees in sees Rustin as an important teacher. And it’s Rustin who says, you know, if you’re going to make this nonviolent tactic stick, you might want to, you know, lose the gun in your house and and lose your armed guards. And adn King really begins to see the value in um in Gandhi-ism and in pacifism in general. And and Rustin become, Rustin is is also you know a really skilled organizer, something King needs desperately. And you know, Rustin gets, you know, 90% of the credit for the march on Washington and maybe King gets ten for his, for his speech. Um. But it’s Rustin who pulls that off. And and that’s, you know, in some ways the crowning moment of King’s career. So um Rustin’s a is a great adviser and he clearly, you know, cares deeply um even when he’s urging King to scale back [?] you could argue that Rustin was right? You know, Rustin said, don’t go to Chicago. Rustin said, don’t stick your neck out on the Vietnam War. Stick to the South. Just focus on voting rights. Just get more people registered to vote in the South and you can tilt the balance of power. You can change what happens in Congress. You can change presidential elections. You know, it didn’t fit with King’s worldview, but strategically, just in terms of, you know, your best play for power, Rustin might have been right in that regard.
DeRay Mckesson: The first is I’d never seen that quote where King says, I felt the pressure to deliver the I Have a Dream speech every time. And I love that because it is it’s so true for so many people like you do something cool and then that becomes the bar and you’re like, well, that was a that was God, you know, that wasn’t even me. Um. How did you stumble across that or did I just not read it? And it had already been out for a million years?
Jonathan Eig: You know, I don’t remember uh whether it had been widely used before. Um. And if I remember correctly, that quote was from Andrew Young, it wasn’t from King but Andrew Young was saying that–
DeRay Mckesson: Yes it was Andrew Young.
Jonathan Eig: He saw that his friend felt this consuming pressure. And, you know, King spoke he must of he gave hundreds of speeches a year. He was on the road constantly. Sometimes he’d do three a day. So imagine that kind of pressure that every time somebody is coming out to hear, it’s like Joe DiMaggio used to say every time he would take the field, um he he he reminded himself that somebody was seeing him play for the first time. Well, everybody coming to hear Martin Luther King speak must have felt like there they were they had high standards and King delivered. King loved speaking in public. I think that was where he was most comfortable, maybe where he was most happy because um he you can see it. You can see when he gets taken away. You can hear it in his voice that he gets becomes transformed, that he becomes something larger than himself when he’s speaking. And he loves that connection he can make. And that’s something he was doing all his life. Like as a child, he used to practice, you know, given sermons in front of the mirror so you could see that he would find this a very comforting place to be standing on the lectern or in the pulpit.
DeRay Mckesson: And the last thing I’ll say was um, I love this section on the Nobel Prize and and sort of the the burden and responsibility of the prize. Um. How do you contextualize what the prize did for his ability to do this work well?
Jonathan Eig: You know, I hadn’t thought about it this way before, but if you think about the way King is raised, he’s everybody is telling him that he’s a second class citizen and he and his parents are telling him he’s not and he’s fighting to prove that he’s not. And here comes the Nobel Prize Committee giving him one of the greatest honors in the world. And you can only imagine how that felt for his parents for his sharecropper father going to to Oslo, Norway, and seeing their son get this prize. But King felt like it was not just um an honor, but a responsibility. And let’s give a shout out to Coretta, because she was the first to say it. She said, this prize means that we have to take on bigger jobs. We have to look at world issues now. We have to look at hunger. We have to look at poverty. Um. This a peace prize and peace is not just an issue in America. And Coretta was always pushing her husband to think big. And she is um you know, her voice is not fully um heard even today. We need to appreciate her contributions. But that Nobel Peace Prize really does turn a corner for King and for Coretta, for Martin and Coretta, because they both begin to speak out more on the Vietnam War and on issues of hunger and poverty. And you know King, at the end of his life, is planning this this poor people’s campaign that really, you know, ties into everything he said in the moments after the winning the Nobel Prize that it’s not just about race, it’s about creating this bigger, broader, you know, beloved community of people of of all races and all um ethnicities and eliminating hunger, eliminating the sense of materialism, fighting back against militarism. You know, he just kept getting bigger and bolder in his ambitions, which is, you know, one of the things I love most about him.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom, there are two questions that we ask everybody. The first is what do you say to people who whose hope has been challenged in moments like this, people who feel like they did all the things. They voted, emailed, protested, read your book, read my book, sent the email, testified, and the world hasn’t changed in the way they wanted it to. What do you say to those people?
Jonathan Eig: I would say to them, listen to the the final words of Martin Luther King. You know, he said that he felt like America was going to hell, that his dream of, that he talked about at the March on Washington had died, that it had turned into a nightmare, and yet he had not lost hope and that he would never lose hope because God created man and women in the image of God. And we have to live up to that. And you can’t lose hope that if you’re if you’re trying to live up to that image. And I think that um that reminder that we must never lose hope is one that I, I carry with me on the tough days.
DeRay Mckesson: And what’s a piece of advice that you’ve gotten that stuck with you over the years?
Jonathan Eig: Huh, a piece of advice that I’ve gotten stuck with me through the years. Um. I was a terrible baseball player, but like, Little League was everything to me. It was all I lived for. And I used to just try to bunt to get my way on base because I was so bad. And the coach said, no. There’s no no bunting for you. You know, if you’re not going to swing hard if you’re not going to try then then don’t play. So I’d like to think that I’m I’m swinging for the fences, even if I’m if I’m not reaching I’m at least taking my best swing.
DeRay Mckesson: Come on, Coach.
Jonathan Eig: Hey good coach.
DeRay Mckesson: He said no bunting for you.
Jonathan Eig: No bunting.
DeRay Mckesson: C’mon coach. [laughter] I love that. How do people stay in touch with you? Where do they go to make sure that they’re up to date on everything you’re doing?
Jonathan Eig: Oh, my Web site, JonathanEig.com. And I’m just getting ready to go out on the road with this book. So please come and see me and say hello.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. We consider you a friend of the pod and can’t wait to have you back.
Jonathan Eig: Aw, that’s so nice. I really enjoyed this. This was a great conversation. [music break]
DeRay Mckesson: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out and make sure you rate it wherever you get your podcasts. Whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else. And we’ll see you next week. Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrié and mixed by Evan Sutton. Executive produced by me and special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger and Myles E. Johnson. [music break].