Thank you, Bill Moyers.
Excerpts from Part One:
BILL MOYERS: With me now is Bryan Stevenson, one of the country's leading advocates for justice. He lives in Alabama, where he founded and leads the Equal Justice Initiative, whose mission is defending the poor and people of color. He's won wide recognition, including the MacArthur "genius" award, for his efforts to end the death penalty. He teaches clinical law at New York University.
Michelle Alexander is also an expert in civil rights advocacy and litigation. The former director of the civil rights clinics at Stanford Law School in California, she teaches law now at Ohio State University. You're going to hear a lot about her powerful new book, "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”…
MICHELLE ALEXANDER: …individual black achievement today masks a disturbing, underlying racial reality. You know, to a significant extent, you know, affirmative action, seeing African Americans, you know, go to Harvard and Yale, become CEOs and corporate lawyers, you know, causes us all to marvel what a long way we have come.
But, you know, as Bryan just indicated, much of the data indicates that African Americans today, as a group, are not much better off than they were back in 1968. When Martin Luther King delivered his, you know, "The Other America" speech. Talking about how there are two Americas in the United States…
BRYAN STEVENSON: Other countries that have confronted historic problems of racism and gross ethnic conflict have recognized that to overcome that, there has to be a period of truth and reconciliation. In South Africa, they had to go through truth and reconciliation. In Rwanda, there had to be truth and reconciliation. In this country, we've never had truth and we've never had reconciliation. And so, the day to day reality for the clients where I work, the people I work with is one that's still hurt, angry, broken…
MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Well, you know, just a couple decades after the collapse of the old Jim Crow system, a new system of racial control emerged in the United States. Today, people of color are targeted by law enforcement for relatively minor, nonviolent, often drug-related offenses. The types of crimes that occur all the time on college campuses, where drug use is open and notorious. That occur in middle class suburban communities without much notice, right?
Targeted, often at very young ages, for these relatively minor offenses. Arrested, branded felons, and then ushered into a parallel social universe, in which they can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in many of the ways in which African Americans were discriminated against during the Jim Crow era.
So, when I say that we have a new racial caste system, what I mean is that we have a system of laws, policies, and practices in the United States today that operate to lock people of color, particularly poor people of color, living in ghetto communities, in an inferior second-class status for life. Now, most people think the drug war was declared in response to rising drug crime or crime rates.
But that is not the case. The current drug war was, you know, was officially declared by President Ronald Reagan in 1982. A couple years before crack hit the streets and became a media sensation…
MICHELLE ALEXANDER: The drug war was part of the Republican Party's kind of grand strategy, now known as the Southern strategy, to use racially coded political appeals on issues of crime and welfare in order to appeal to poor and working class white voters who were resentful of and disaffected by many of the gains of the Civil Rights Movement.
Folks who were upset by bussing. Desegregation and affirmative action. The Republican Party strategists, you know, openly talked about the need to use racially-coded political appeals on crime and welfare in order to get those voters who used to be part of the Democratic New Deal coalition, to get those folks to defect to the Republican Party.
BILL MOYERS: You have a quote in your book from President Richard Nixon's White House Chief of Staff, H.R. Haldeman: "The whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to."…
Here’s a previous P.P. post about Michelle Alexander’s work.
Excerpts from Part Two:
BILL MOYERS: As we just heard, we have a long way to go to fulfill the dream of a multi-racial democracy, with equal justice and opportunity for all. Our Declaration of Independence spoke eloquently of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as inalienable rights, but those rights did not extend to slaves. Abraham Lincoln, the "Great Emancipator," may have been the first of our leaders fully to grasp the meaning of the American promise. In this small but significant book, "The American Dream vs. The Gospel of Wealth," the economist Norton Garfinkle writes that Lincoln believed this country's defining characteristic was economic opportunity. He believed that through hard work, over the course of a lifetime, every American -- including black people --could achieve a decent standard of living.
In Garfinkle's words, "America was the first nation on earth to offer this opportunity of economic advancement to all, even to the humblest beginner, and this was what made the nation unique and worth preserving. Ultimately, it was the largest reason for Lincoln's willingness to fight the Civil War."
In our time, this idea of universal opportunity is once again under assault for working people of every race.
Even before the Great Collapse of '08 destroyed the value of their homes, robbed their pensions, and took their jobs, American families were slipping behind, and are worse off now than they were thirty years ago. Over these past three decades, workers actually increased their productivity but did not share proportionately in the rewards of their labor. Those went largely to the top.
Since 1980, the year Ronald Reagan was elected president, the incomes of people at the top have doubled while those in the middle and at the bottom have remained flat.
Let me throw some more statistics at you. You'll find their sources at our site online. Keep in mind that each of these numbers represents lived human experience.
In this richest of countries, more than 40 million people are living in poverty.
At some point in their childhoods, half of America's children will use food stamps to eat.
Some 30 million workers are unemployed or under-employed, and for those still working, the median wage today is about $32 thousand a year, which is why so many people are working two jobs trying to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, as the economist Robert Reich recently reminded us, in the 1950's and 60's, the CEO's of major American companies took home about 25 to 30 times the wages of the typical worker. By 1980 the big company CEO took home roughly 40 times the worker's wage. By 1990, it was 100 times. And by 2007, executives at the largest American companies received about 350 times the pay of the average employee. In many of the top corporations, the chief executive earns more every day than the average worker gets paid in a year.
And then there's the financial world. Case in point: Ken Lewis, who at the end of 2009 retired as CEO of Bank of America. Only recently did we learn that, not long after his company received $45 billion in taxpayer dollars from the big bailout, Lewis raked in more than $73 million in pension benefits and stock, and was given an insurance policy worth $10 million to his beneficiaries.
But compared to some people, Ken Lewis is a piker. Hedge fund managers, who bet that taxpayers -- you -- would pay to keep the banks from collapsing, hit the jackpot. Last year, one of them alone made a cool four billion dollars. The top 25 scooped up a total of 25.3 billion.
Dear America, Something is terribly wrong and it’s time for you to wake up.