Rev. Al Sharpton

After 200K+ Dead, Vote For Your Life

Air Date: October 13, 2020

Civil Rights leader and MSNBC’s Rev. Al Sharpton discusses the mobilization of Black voters and systemic inequity as a closing campaign argument.


HEFFNER: I’m Alexander Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. I’m honored to welcome to our broadcast today the Reverend, Reverend Al Sharpton. I’m always honored when he has me on Politics Nation on MSNBC. You look well as always. I hope you feel very well.


SHARPTON: Thank you. I feel great. And you look well as well, Alexander.


HEFFNER: Thank you. Thank you, Rev. Rev, let me ask you, how effective do you think the vice president, Vice President Biden is mobilizing the Democratic Party electorate so far in this campaign?


SHARPTON: I think he’s so far doing well, particularly given the pandemic. I think that they can do more. I’d like to see them engage as much as possible in their base community, the working class, of course the African American and Latino communities, Asian and Native American, because I’m concerned when I see the polls in Florida where the Latino vote for whatever reasons that are inexplainable to me, there seems to be an uptick in support for Trump. And I do understand the dynamics of the Latino community. That Florida is Cuban in many parts. And some of the older Cubans are the anti Castro crowd. But the practice that if you are talking about a president who had built this whole campaign on anti Latino, it didn’t matter whether they were Mexican, Ecuadorian, Puerto Rican. Let’s not forget there’s a large Puerto Rican community in Florida. This is the president that in the aftermath of the hurricane went to Puerto Rico and threw towels. So there’s no reason that that community should not be reminded of his behavior. So I think that Biden’s campaign or to lean in even more. Now, when I hear that Michael Bloomberg is committed to spend a hundred million dollars in Florida alone, a lot of that ought to be targeted to back to community, to the black community where now we’re in the fight over using, having our voter rights, voter suppression, a segment of both communities and the white community of ex-felons that we’re fighting to restore the right to vote that was voted on there if Florida. I think those are the kinds of things in these last two months. They have to dig in and they have to work with people on the ground and they can do that even in a pandemic.


HEFFNER: Do you think that this ticket, the Biden-Harris ticket is capable of performing at the level of President Obama in 2008 or 2012 in places like Philadelphia, Milwaukee, elsewhere?


SHARPTON; I do. I think that the time that we’re in and the whole rise of the movement after the killing of George Floyd, in the whole clear indication with Woodward’s book, that this president with full knowledge did not move on this incoming pandemic. I think many factors give them the groundswell if they tap into it and use it, that would bring out Obama numbers. Let’s remember that Trump won Michigan with less than 12,000 votes. He won Wisconsin, 23,000 votes. They don’t need a lot of votes to win those states. I think they have the potential of getting a lot more of those folks if they’re focused in, on the ground,


HEFFNER: Reverend, disinformation targeted black Americans and young Americans, especially during the 2016 campaign. Our nonprofit, The Open Mind Legacy Project, and the News Literacy Project produced a series of PSAs that are airing in the battleground states now, and in cities that are hard hit by the pandemic. I wanted to play them for you and ask you to respond:


VIDEO, PSA NARRATION: “Voting is how you can help preserve and participate in democracy. There are several legal and secure ways to cast your ballot during the pandemic that are safe. All states allow voting by mail. Studies show it is reliable and voter fraud is rare. 40 states allow early voting in person too, and you can still go to the polls on Election Day, November 3rd, you cannot vote by text on social media or over the Internet, and the election cannot be postponed or canceled. Voting depends on you. Democracy depends on us.”


VIDEO, PSA 2 NARRATION: “With the November election on the horizon we all need to critically examine the information we read and share. Your friends and family may share your views, but we all need to challenge ourselves to break out of our bubbles. Look at a variety of news sources to see if the claim being reported is accurate while always staying alert to misinformation. We tend to lean into what feels right and ignore what doesn’t. Be receptive to news that may challenge your assumptions. Voting depends on you. Democracy depends on us.”


VIDEO, PSA 3 NARRATION: “As the election approaches, we need to be on the lookout for fraudulent content masquerading as the real deal. If you see a damaging post, image, or story about a candidate, make sure to verify whether it’s authentic or not before you share it. Falsehoods spread much faster than facts. Whether it’s a claim of long lines at the polling site to keep us away or fake videos to sway our votes, let’s make sure to double check our facts before we act. Voting depends on you. Democracy depends on us.”


VIDEO, PSA 4 NARRATION: “Deciding who to vote for is important. There are people, organizations and governments trying to trip us up, manipulate our vote, or keep us from voting altogether. Watch out for phrases that frequently accompany political disinformation, like make this go viral or conspiratorial statements like the media won’t cover this or attempts to pray on our emotions like just let that sink in. It’s your vote, not theirs. Voting depends on you. Democracy depends on us.”


SHARPTON: I think they’re very effective. I think they get right to the point that need to be countered: The misinformation on how you can vote; the misinformation on the web, that the voting dates will change and, and really getting down to basics. I think that part of what we saw in 2016 is they not only propagandized against Hillary Clinton, they put in a whole strategy of confusion of the voting to change, or you can’t do this, or can’t do that; things that you could do and should do. And I think that the messaging that has come out of what I’ve just seen is really on point and is extremely necessary. We would be not only naive, we would be downright idiotic, not think that they’re not going to try a misinformation campaign directed at young people and black people this time. And it’s been established there was Russian interference in 2016, and I’m sure there will be that in 2020. And let’s not forget the head of state in Russia was a KGB man. They specialized in how to use intelligence to undermine and undercut. What we did not see in 2016. And I hope we will see it now. And I’m glad to see what this project is doing, is a counter-information plan, counter information ads, counter information media so that all of that can be knocked down. So when they do come, people can have in their minds, oh I was warned about this, that’s one of them.


HEFFNER: Do you think his, Trump’s machismo, his bravado his attempts to dupe folks has, has the opportunity to work again?


SHARPTON: I think that it will not work as much as it did in ’16. Where you are an insurgent and you’re tapping into the disappointment, anxiety, or anger of people you can play the machismo game and people feel like you have their passion and you have their sense of being disgruntled and that you are representing them. When you’ve been in three and a half years and those people are worse now than they were before, and that they began to see you in charge. You can’t run against a system that you were in charge of for three and a half years. And now we hear takes thanks to a Woodward where you yourself, in your own words, your own mouth, your own voice are saying the things that ended up costing lives: almost 200,000 lives as of right now, and costing the economy. So now, if I’m a disgruntled person, whether I’m in West Virginia or in Appalachia or in Asbury Park, New Jersey or New York, if I’m now listening to the machismo, I’m saying, but this is the guy that said he was downplaying a pandemic that could have saved my cousin’s life and my job, or my business. And I think that the problem is like a schoolyard bully. He’s good until he gets in a fight and gets his behind kicked.


HEFFNER: Do you think that there’s any elements of the tribal identity that he, you know, tries to endear himself to you, know, the kind of gendered politics, the race baiting that, that could work? And I, and I asked you this because we know that in 2016, he paid folks to vouch for him, you know, who were not just white folks, people across the age and color spectrum. So he’s still attempting on social media and elsewhere to project American voices who are not white Americans as supporters of his. You know, we, we knew that folks were duped in 2016. If there is any aspect of antipathy towards Joe Biden or Kamala Harris, is there a way that you think he could effectively mobilize some black voters against the Democratic ticket?


SHARPTON: I think he’s going to try. But I think his problem is the record. It is difficult. When you sit up there with an Attorney General, your Attorney General who has operated as your personal lawyer, saying he doesn’t believe systemic racism exists. Now we’re in the Black Lives Matter movement era. And the Attorney General over the Justice Department is saying the exact opposite of what we’re saying in that movement, no, there is no systemic racist. Well, then who’s going to validate that administration? I don’t care how black and popular they are. I heard the Attorney General say this doesn’t exist. When you see the record of Trump ending any racial references in federal agencies take all of that out, ending discrimination in HUD, take all of that out. Calling black nations, African nations, and Haiti, s-hole countries. How then does anybody validate something that is clear on his face to be against my interests? Now some may be, but they will be a fraction of what they were in 2016. And I remember when he was first elected, Alexander, he called me and invited me to meet with him at Trump Tower. And I wouldn’t go, I warned others, don’t go. He just wants a photo op. He’s not going to do anything. Those people damaged their credibility and their service by even being photographed with him. So some of the validators he gets, I think will hurt themselves more than they will hurt the opposition party running against him.


HEFFNER: Rev. you are of course, a civil rights leader and icon. In this newest phase of the civil rights movement do you think there’s a collective support system for the Black Lives Matter? Activists, organizers who see themselves as the next generation of John Lewis of Al Sharpton of even earlier, MLK is, is there that succession of tapestry that we wanted to finally realize? Do, do you think it feels that way in, in black and brown communities?


SHARPTON: I think it does feel that way. I think that a lot of the media though misunderstand it. First of all, the whole landscape that we see now is like it was in the time before me. There were always organic movements. The freedom Eiders was not an organized group. NAACP didn’t organize the freedom riders. Dr. King didn’t. Dr, King never rode one of those buses. Those were students that did what young people are doing now. They formed SNCC out of that. They, some of Mississippi ‘64 was an organic movement in ‘64. So we’ve always had organic movements, then more organized movements like NAACP at that time called SCLC. And you had those that were more nationalist like Malcolm X; it’s always been a diversity. I think that of lazy media people act like these kinds of different columns are new, they had just updated in these times. I think that that’s what we’re seeing now. Let’s not forget that the March on Washington in ‘63 was called by A. Philip Randolph, the head of the Sleeping Car Porters. And he was 72 years old when he called it. But John Lewis was 23 and spoke. And Dr. King was in his thirties and spoke. And Whitney Young was in his forties and spoke. Same thing happened in the 2020 March on Washington and Martin Luther King, the third and I just had with tens of thousand children; we had more young people than we had anyone else. And we had a lot of whites. So I think if people studied the dynamics of the movements of the past, they would see the exact same thing that is happening today. Now I use the sixties as an example. In the sixties, you had those that were organic, that were doing Freedom Summer in Mississippi and our Freedom Riders. You had those that joined SNCC, which was for the students, but then you had some people that were young that were in the King movement. Out of that young group came a John Lewis, came a Jesse Jackson. So all young people were not in organic movements then. They joined structures and grew up in those structures and became the leaders. Others stayed organic and grew up in and remained involved in the movement in their ways. I see the same thing happening out. There are aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement that’s organic, that’s marching every day. There are young people, some as young, some younger that are in structured organizations, all of it makes one movement, and I think that’s why it’s affective. National Action Network that took the lead in a lot of these things going on, now, our youth director is 23 years old, is a minister. He’s younger than some of those in that organic movement. He is like John Lewis was. And I think rather than our trying to pinpoint everybody, we need to deal with the flow of the movement because there’s no, I think there’s no real division in terms of the goal. There may be different tactics, may be different language, but the goals are the same. The other element that people forget is the victims have a lot to do with what you’re fighting. If the family of George Floyd, since do we want a Ben Crump or to be our lawyer, we want Al Sharpton to do our eulogy. We want this person to hold our press conference. And who is it for somebody to come say, I’m progressive, they ought not do that. You can’t tell a family who want to represent them. And I think that a lot of the arrogance of some is on full display and they eliminate themselves from being taken seriously by all in the movement.


HEFFNER: The arrogance of the latte liberalism?


SHARPTON: That’s right, because a lot of the latte liberals and I talk about it in my book “Rise Up” is that they want to control the movement to protect what they want to protect. And I think that what you’ve got to do is the movement will have emerged in the forces and the groups that speak for those people. For example I remember when Eric Garner was killed by a chokehold from a New York City policeman six years ago. Family came to National Action Network. They asked us to take the lead. We did. When they were going to meet in City Hall around the Eric Garner case, the Mayor Bill de Blasio, and the police commissioner Bill Bratton, invited everyone, including me to come. There was the latte liberals saying, well, why is Sharpton sitting up there with the police commissioner and the mayor? First of all, but the Garner family, we meet him by Eric Garner that had put me in the position to speak for them. Secondly, I didn’t find it as you know a great a concession to me. I would leave with President Obama. I wouldn’t meet with the heads of the Senate; to meet with the local mayor and police commissioner wasn’t exactly something on my wish list, but they want to appoint things cause then they can control it. We, Alexander not looking for better slave masters. We’re looking to be free.


HEFFNER: And you got to get in the arena, right,


SHARPTON: You’ve got to get in the arena and you got to fight. And when you’re going to fight, you need everybody of every generation with any capacity to help fight, ‘cause we’re fighting a system and you can’t fight a system with just one-dimensional fight.


HEFFNER: Do you think tactically, because you mentioned a difference in tactics and in this newest stage of the civil rights movement, is there a tendency to contextualize only the police brutality and not the economic and social conditions that have allowed it to be emboldened? Do you think that it’s a mistake to make this singularly about police corruption and brutality and how should the issues be framed in the whole constellation of issues?


SHARPTON: I think it is a trap to only deal with just police brutality without also talking about the economic and political condition that lead to the almost immunization of bad police; almost leaving them unaccounted for and leaving them in place. That’s one of the reasons why in the big march we had August 28th, we put out that we wanted legislation passed. The House has already passed George Florida Policing and Justice Act, and the Senate has to deal with it, but also the Voting Act. But we also need to deal with economic conditions. All of these things, if you don’t deal with the big picture, you can put out the flame but the print is still hot and it’s going to be a flame coming back up again. You must deal with the broad socioeconomic inequality. You have to deal with the fact that mass incarceration and police brutality and prosecutions that are disproportionate are all part of the wealth gap and all part of giving tax breaks to the wealthy and, and, and giving the lower income people nothing. It’s part of giving educational services that in one community, they can read it, right well, I’m talking about in public schools and another community, you’re averaging three to four grades behind. All of that reinforces each other, and you must be able to put the big picture out and say, brutality is an example of a corrupt bigger picture. It is an example. It is not the only thing to deal with.


HEFFNER: Is, and isn’t the most massive brutality, the inequity of healthcare that led not just a majority, but three quarters plus, of fatalities mortalities from the pandemic in black and brown communities. Is that when you talk about the big picture and making a closing argument to the black and brown voters of the United States, is, is that the most important and the most persuasive argument that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris can make?


SHARPTON: I think that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris must make that argument is not only can make, they must make it because in the middle of a pandemic, nothing was more glaring than that over three quarters of those that were directly impacted were blacks and people of color. Why is that? Because of the disproportionate way we are given health service, because we are disproportionately the first responders. So we couldn’t work from home because how do you work from home if you are one that has to go out and do deliveries or one that works in the frontline services or in any given municipality or village. And all of that became glaringly obvious to everyone when you see the data out there. We could not sit home on a computer and do work if you are doing the hands on work that keeps cities operating, and you’ve had the least amount of good health services, least amount of health insurance, all of that should be their closing argument, which is why we need to deal with the two Americas. And I talk about that in a new book, “Rise Up.” Unless you address that we are talking about nothing. Nothing is more important than our lives. And you have a disproportionate level of illness and death in communities based on their color and based on their nationality. And then on their gender. There’s nothing more serious than that. I use this example. I was born October 3rd, 1954. When I was born on my birth certificate, your name, your parents names, race: Negro. At that time, they called us Negro. From the moment they put down Negro, you could predict what zip code I was going to live in and what kind of education I was going to likely have. What kind of a medium income was I going to be likely to deal with and what kind of criminal justice I was going to deal with, on the environment that I was growing up in, just based on the race designation. So before my mother took me out of the maternity ward, I was already designated to a social position. And until that breaks, the white kid born the same night, in the same maternity ward, two beds from me had a different designation and a different future. Until that is equalized we are not the Great Society that we claimed.


HEFFNER: In the minute we have remaining, what is the most specific policy that can resonate for Biden and Harris to make that argument and say that in a Biden presidency, your livelihood will immediately improve because we’re going to do … Is it the Affordable Care Act? Is it, what, is there something specific that can, resonate?


SHARPTON: I think that it must be a combination of saying that we will specifically deal with the Affordable Care Act to bring health care equally to everyone, and the pandemic showed us that. And we will enforce a criminal justice reform. That is the argument that they may make. And I think that that would energize people to feel that they’re not voting for five or Harris they’re voting for themselves.


HEFFNER: As a final question, is there anything that you would like to see Senator Harris do, either a public statement or speech given her historic role and also her importance to resonate with communities and the Democratic Party anything she hasn’t done yet that you would like to see her do?


SHARPTON: I would like to see her do more of what she’s doing. I think she should amplify it: saying that she wants to see this system work for everyone. And I think she should dispel the whole notion of can we win? The thing that frustrates me more than anyone, anything else is people saying, well, can we really beat Trump? We won against great odds in ‘08 with Barack Obama. When we talk about can we elect that black woman vice president, we elected a black man who we couldn’t even get his name right for six months! We elected him and reelected him. How is it so beyond the possible to do what you’ve already done? And she needs to say that. There was a movie that was out when I was a kid; a Sidney Poitier called “Let’s Do It Again.” That’s what Kamala ought to say, Let’s do it again. We beat the forces that were lined up against us in ‘08. And we started down a path. The path was detoured under Trump. Let’s do it again and get back on the path of healthcare for everyone and a criminal justice system that treats everyone equally under the law.


HEFFNER: Let’s do it again Rev. It’s always a pleasure to see you. I hope it’s in person at some point in the near future.


SHARPTON: Same to you, Alexander.


HEFFNER: Stay well. Thank you for your insights today, Rev.


SHARPTON: Thank you.


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