Donald Trump is poised to make another lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. It is a grave injustice and is tantamount to a coup within the judicial branch of the U.S. government. This week on Intercepted: Jeremy Scahill makes the case for an inside-outside strategy for resisting Trump. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, 33, is running for governor of Michigan on a campaign of creating a single-payer health care system, raising the minimum wage to $15, legalizing marijuana, and a sweeping overhaul of the state’s criminal justice system. He discusses his campaign, his views on the Democratic Party, the Flint water catastrophe, and why he believes he can accomplish his agenda despite the powerful right-wing forces in Michigan politics, including the DeVos and Prince families. As the internment of immigrant families continues, we revisit Scahill’s 2017 conversation with educator and organizer Mariame Kaba. She retraces the evolution of the U.S. prison system, from convict leasing to three-strikes law, and the devastating generational impact these policies have disproportionately had on black and brown communities. Filmmaker Michelle Latimer discusses her new documentary “Nuuca,” a nuanced exploration of the brutal transformation that oil extraction brought to one North Dakotan community. The film follows three young indigenous women who struggle with an influx of men and rising rates of sexual abuse, rape, and kidnappings.
President Donald J. Trump: My fellow Americans, tonight I speak you from the East Room of the White House regarding one of the most profound responsibility of the president of the United States and that is the selection of a Space Force. Space Force.
Thunderbirds: Five. Four. Three. Two. One.
DJT: Space. You know all about Space Force. They love rockets, Elon Musk and all of them. Let them send up their rockets, let them be the first to Mars. NASA is really the beginning of something very big for all of you. That’s a good future because of president.
[“Here Comes the Judge” by Pigmeat Markham plays.]
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from The Intercept and this is episode 63 of Intercepted.
Chris Wallace: Do you want to see the court overturn Roe v. Wade?
DJT: Well, if we put another two or, perhaps, three justices on, that’s really what’s going to be — that will happen, and that’ll happen automatically, in my opinion because I am putting pro-life justices on.
DJT: I’m going to put conservative judges on. I think one of the biggest things happening in terms of this election are, you know, it could be as many as five judges will be appointed.
DJT: Having to do with abortion, what it, if it ever were overturned, it would go back to the states.
Lesley Stahl: Some women won’t be able to get an abortion.
DJT: No. It’ll go back to the states.
LS: By state. No —
DJT: They’ll perhaps have to go to another state.
DJT: Now, for the first time since Roe v. Wade, America has a pro-life president, a pro-life vice president, a pro-life House of Representatives and 25 pro-life Republican state capitals. That is pretty good.
JS: There has been a war on women in this country, well, from the beginning but what we’re witnessing now with the emerging composition of the highest offices in the judicial branch of the United States government is disgraceful, criminal, it’s anti-human and we need a fierce front of actual resistance.
Anything less than the Democrats in Congress shutting this down, shutting it all down, and confronting this as the emergency that it is, is unacceptable. This president, Donald Trump, could, and probably should, be indicted. The idea that he is going to be permitted to make a lifetime appointment — two of them, in fact — is a grave injustice and it’s tantamount to a coup d’état within the judicial branch of the United States government. For all of the embracing of the nice little painter George W. Bush that’s taken place from the so-called resistance, the hug from Michelle Obama.
President George W Bush: We just took each other, I sat next to her at Nancy Reagan’s memorial. Can’t remember where else I’ve sat next to her, but, you know, probably have a few wisecracks, and she seemed to like it OK. And when I saw her, it was a genuine expression of affection.
JS: This Supreme Court justice pick has Bush giddy with excitement. And let’s be clear: This court, if it is allowed to be constituted, will be medieval. This is going to be Handmaid’s Tale-level of stripping of women’s rights. And one of the ways we got here is because of the absolutely pathetic state of the Democratic Party. They blew the 2016 Election; they blew it against Donald Trump. This wasn’t Jill Stein, this wasn’t Susan Sarandon, this wasn’t Bernie Sanders — elite corporate institutional leadership of the Democratic Party bears responsibility for this.
We’re at a crossroads in this nation. The two-party system should have been dismantled long ago, but it is what it is, and I’m not a believer in electoral politics as the driving force for change in our society. But given where we’re at, the best that we can do on that front is to fight to stop a total catastrophic disaster from getting even worse. That means having the courage to fight on multiple fronts. If the old guard, Democratic Party elite doesn’t want to understand the times in which we are living, then they need to be taken out.
We need fighters not beholden to corporations. We need political leaders who don’t kowtow to some fake bullshit notion that we have a purple electorate. This is war. And both parties have leaders who need to go — obviously for different reasons, but they need to go. The GOP has fully embraced a fascist, right-wing Christian, Creationist, Dominionist ideology, theology and they’re moving fast to implement it. We need an inside-outside strategy. We need to be uncompromising. We need to reject any candidates who don’t get that we are in a war.
You can’t just think that voting every two years or four years is some sort of direct action any more than someone can be a vegetarian between meals. Just voting against Republicans? That’s not a strategy; it’s part of the problem. All of this being afraid of your own shadow and saying: Oh, well, we need to run Blue Dog Democrats? It’s bullshit. We need to elect people who actually stand for something, who actually believe in the fight.
What do you do between elections? What streets are you in? What battles are you fighting? Where were you during the eight years of Obama. Were you asleep or were you fighting? Were you playing defense for bad policies, because Obama was your guy or were you fighting? We’ve seen where this right-wing establishment Democratic Party has gotten us; they’ve gotten us here, they’ve gotten us Donald Trump.
Now we have seen some real hope lately. We’ve seen truly progressive candidates challenging the institutional Democratic Party and we’re seeing those elite Democrats panic and fight dirty and try to ignore candidates and try to cajole them into not running and try to blackmail them, trying to stop the tide of history. In this war, we’re going to win some and we’re going to lose some, particularly in that electoral arena, an arena that, as of now, the elite corporatists still dominate.
It’s a worthy fight. But it can’t be the only fight. Indeed, it’s not the only fight. Our conscience cannot be ceded to elected politicians no matter who they are. We all need to embrace an inside-outside strategy. Elections can help hold the line against future horrors and agendas; they may slow the growth of fascistic forces, but they won’t defeat them. That’s not a strategy. Elections alone cannot bring real change any more than a corporate political party posing as opposition can. History has proven that cold.
Now, recently, we have seen glimmers of hope at the ballot box and we’re seeing a new generation of activists taking on incumbent Democrats, and some of them are Democratic Socialists. This is a very important moment. After one of the biggest upsets in modern political history was pulled off by the Congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her primary against Representative Joe Crowley, one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress, it was a race that happened here in New York, a lot of focus has turned intensely to who is going to be the next candidate to spearhead a progressive, grassroots campaign and win on a radical platform. And there’s lots of talk about a gubernatorial candidate in the state of Michigan. He is 33 years old, he’s a medical doctor, he is the son of Egyptian parents and, if he’s ultimately elected, he will be the first Muslim governor ever to hold office in the United States. I’m talking about Abdul El-Sayed.
Abdul El-Sayed: I’m a doctor. I had the privilege of rebuilding Detroit’s Health Department after it had been shut down in a city with a higher infant mortality rate than my father’s native Egypt. And, no matter where I go, people are asking the same basic question: Why is it that our economy seems to lock people out? 600,000 Michiganders go every day without access to basic healthcare.
JS: El-Sayed’s 20-point platform includes a state-level, single-payer healthcare plan. He wants to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. He says he wants to legalize marijuana and he said he’s going to end the Flint water crisis, as well as shut down any new fossil fuel infrastructure. His progressive campaign is being waged on the Democratic ticket, much like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And he has not accepted any corporate campaign money.
Now, he’s facing two other Democratic challengers. One of them, who is considered the favorite, is Gretchen Whitmer. She’s, I guess, a more centrist Democrat, formerly the Michigan Senate Democratic leader. She does not support single payer health care. The other competitor in this race for the Democratic nomination is a bizarre millionaire entrepreneur with no political experience. His name is Shri Thanedar. He’s pouring millions of dollars of his own money into his campaign, while seeking to brand himself as the Bernie of this election in Michigan. But he also had this weird flirtation with Marco Rubio’s presidential run and he donated to John McCain’s presidential campaign. The primary between these three candidates is coming up soon; it’s on August 7th. And Abdul Al-Sayed joins me now to discuss his campaign and that primary. Abdul, welcome to Intercepted.
AE-S: Thank you so much for having us. Really excited to be here.
JS: The local press is definitely paying attention to you, but they’re still describing your bid for the governorship as a long shot. What is your platform?
AE-S: We’ve got to build a Michigan that is more just, more equitable, more sustainable and to me that means putting government where it needs to be and taking it out where it doesn’t. Government shouldn’t be telling you what decisions you make when you’re at your doctor. Government shouldn’t be telling you where you can live or where you can’t live based on who you love or how you identify. But government should be providing you access to something as basic as healthcare. It should be making sure that your roads work. It should be making sure that we are standing up to the big corporations who have dominated markets and put people behind.
We’ve got to stand up to potential polluters like Enbridge, who runs an oil pipeline through the Straits at Mackinac that could potentially poison 10 percent of the world’s fresh water in a matter of days if that pipeline, which is 15 years past its due, were to burst. And government should be providing kids really high-quality public education despite what people like Betsy DeVos think. That, to me, is what this movement we’re building, and a movement that is building nationally is about doing. We’ve got to fight against climate change and make sure that we are on a path to 100 percent renewable energy, in the meantime building infrastructure and creating jobs.
JS: You mentioned Betsy DeVos. Of course, she is the education secretary. She’s also the sister of Erik Prince, the founder of the Blackwater mercenary company, and those two families merged together with the marriage of Betsy Prince and Dick DeVos, the heir to the Amway corporation fortune and powerhouse players in right-wing politics in Michigan, which raises the question: Michigan has a very strong Republican Party that operates not just on the state level but on the national level. If you are elected governor and you have this sort of fierce right wing that’s in control of large portions of the state government, how on earth can you get anything done?
AE-S: Well, I’ll tell you this: You know, unfortunately right now, Michigan’s not batting very well. Our chief government exports nationally are Betsy DeVos and Ben Carson, both of whom grew up in Michigan. We can do a lot better.
And we have watched as folks like the DeVoses have engineered a takeover of state legislatures across the country and, in particular, in Michigan. And just to give you a sense of it: Michigan is a true purple state, right? You never have really more than 10 percent swing either way. And if you look at our state senate, there are 38 senators, 27 of whom are Republicans and it has everything to do with gerrymandering.
Fact is though, is that Michiganders are sick of it. We’ve got a state legislature that is more interested in making English the official language of the state of Michigan than fixing roads that have been crumbling for decades. And we’re watching as our education system went from being in the top 10 nationwide when I graduated from high school, not that long ago, to being in the bottom 10 nationwide and we’ve got a responsibility to stand up.
I’m interested in working with anybody and everybody who’s interested in benefitting people in the state of Michigan. Right now, I think a lot of Michiganders recognize that the Republican-dominated legislature has not been interested in doing that for a long time. But I’ve been up and down the state of Michigan, 120 cities now and had conversations with all kinds of people. And when you sit down with them and you say: “Listen, how many of you either lost a job or know somebody who did during the Great Recession and had to worry about losing your healthcare? How many of you are willing to stand up to make sure that everybody has access to healthcare? How many of you are sick and tired of watching corporations like Nestle bottle our water, unlimited amounts, for $400 a year while people are getting their water shut off and the city of Flint still does not have clean water?”
And so, there’s an opportunity right now to cut through a lot of the messaging that Republicans have used for a very long time to fear monger to have conversations with people in places. And no matter who you are across the state of Michigan, if you are poor or working or retired, you know that the state could be doing a lot better for you.
JS: The leading candidate that you’re running against, Gretchen Whitmer, is a veteran lawmaker, the leader of the Democrats in the state senate. Why do you need to challenge her? If Michigan is as you put it, you know it’s a purple state that doesn’t swing radically one way or the other and the Democrats definitely want to control Michigan for a variety of reasons, why challenge her and risk splitting the party there? What’s your end game?
AE-S: It’s not about Democrats versus Republicans anymore. It is about who is willing to call us to our ideals on which this country was founded. And I don’t believe that there’s a civil war in the Democratic Party but I do believe that the Democratic Party has to figure out whether or not we want to be the party who we’ve always been supposed to have been at our core, the party that dignifies people, that is willing to stand up and work for working people or we want to continue to play by Republican rules and therefore have our platform undercut.
JS: Do you really believe what you just said, that that is what the Democratic Party has always stood for? I hear people say that but on issues of war, on economics, on healthcare even, there has not been some ferocious progressive movement run by the Democratic Party. Often, the oligarchs of the Democratic Party have to be dragged kicking and screaming to any kind of progressive change, and, I mean, that goes on almost every single issue, yes if you compare it to the villainy of the Republican Party, you can find differences where the Democrats are obviously more humane in their approach, but do you really believe that that is what the Democratic Party stands for? Because I haven’t seen that in decades.
AE-S: You’re unfortunately right, and the Democrat that I look to is none other than Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was focused on architecting a United States where you empowered real people, you were willing to use government to solve real problems that they faced imminently in the moment and he was willing to stand up to the corporations and the corporate class who did not want to see this happen and were more focused on their bottom lines than they were on the well being of the country and the people who make our country what it is. And I don’t mean to say that, you know, FDR was somehow a perfect president at all. Obviously he did some pretty terrible things. I’m not somebody who believes in this grand mythos of any party: I know that the Democratic Party is the party of Andrew Jackson, and unfortunately was on the wrong side on civil rights for a while up until we had leadership. But, let’s be clear, the responsibility right now is to pull us as a party to FDR’s Democratic Party and to remind ourselves that we have an opportunity about what is morally correct and about fighting for that right now. And, to me, it is about standing up to the dominance of a particular economic elite, about recognizing that real people are suffering every single day and about being willing to stand up for policies that empower real people over the corporations.
JS: Right, and just part of the complexity of this, you cite FDR as, you know, one of the examples, but of course in addition to all of the positive aspects that you cited, FDR also set up and ran internment camps, concentration-style camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II. And I’m not trying to slap you with that, I mean the examples you gave about FDR are all progressive, domestic political issues. But what I’m getting at here is: Why run as a Democrat? It doesn’t seem like you fit the mold of the dominant wing of the Democratic Party right now. And I would ask the same thing to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Is it a strategic thing, where you’re saying: Look, we need to do big tent politics, and yes, there should be a left flank or a progressive flank of the Democratic Party? Or is it because that’s the only game in town, really, in electoral politics right now?
AE-S: So, number one, I’ll never apologize for the Japanese internment, that was a terrible moment in our history, and, you know, unfortunately one of the black spots on FDR’s tenure as president. You know, as a Muslim American, these are real facts that we have to recognize, right? And in a moment in our history, one group of people got vilified because of their ethnicity and we need to work toward America where nothing like that ever happens again and unfortunately we’re not moving in the right direction right now.
I’ll say this: You know, if you see an apparatus and you know that apparatus is being moved in the wrong direction, do you try and build a new apparatus or do you walk into that apparatus and have a conversation about how that apparatus ought to be used?
JS: That’s the question. Isn’t that the question for someone like you?
AE-S: I believe that there is good in the Democratic Party. I believe that we have an opportunity right now to pull the Democratic Party in the direction of truth and moral clarity, in the direction of standing up for working people and being willing to be bold in our policy solutions. And I know that that opportunity is real. I think Bernie Sanders showed us what was possible and I think it’s on this new generation of leaders to pull the party in that direction. We’ve got an opportunity to build a future for Democrats where we are unapologetic about standing up to big corporations, we are honest about where our money comes from and the implications of that money, and we are willing to stand unapologetically for things like Medicare for all, for things like one hundred percent renewable energy, for things like a $15 minimum wage, and it’s working, right?
When you see people like Alexander Ocasio Cortez, you recognize that this is where the soul of Democrats are moving. And let’s also be clear about, you know, the Democratic facts of where this country is headed. You know, several years ago the median child born was a child of color and I think we have an opportunity to right now to evolve the party and to move it in the direction that it’s always kind of wanted to go, except for the fact that, you know, we’ve watched as some of these corporate elite have been able to corrupt it. And now it’s just time to say: Enough is enough, let’s move this party where it ought to be going and let’s truly be honest about what our ideals are and what the implications of those ideals suggest for the way that we run campaigns, for what we talk about, and for how we build political power by really reaching out to people who everybody else has forgotten.
JS: Do you support abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency? Should ICE be abolished?
AE-S: Yes, I do. I don’t believe that that agency operates in good faith for what’s best in our country, and, right now, ICE is a focal point for some of the greatest evils that are perpetrated in our name as Americans by our government that we pay our tax dollars into. As governor, obviously my responsibility will be encased in the state of Michigan, and what that means to me is that, under my leadership, state resources, whether that is the Michigan state police or the Department of Corrections, state resources will not be used in collaboration with ICE. We will not give a dollar of state money to support the enforcement of federal immigration policy that at best is incoherent and at worst is heartless and we would seek to pass legislation that would preempt our municipalities from collaboration with ICE as well.
JS: In Michigan, you have one of the largest, if not the largest, concentration of Arab or Muslim Americans in the Dearborn Michigan area. And, a few years ago, my colleague Ryan Devereaux and I published a story in The Intercept, we actually published the government’s rulebook for watchlisting both U.S. citizens and foreigners. And what we discovered in the batch of documents that we got is that among the top five most watchlisted cities in the country — obviously New York is on there, Los Angeles is on there, Chicago is on there — Dearborn, Michigan was on that list as having one of the top five largest populations of watchlisted individuals of all cities in the United States.
As governor, what can you do to counterbalance or confront what is a secretive, essentially parallel judicial system where people are not even allowed to know if they’re on a watch list or why they’re on a watch list? Is there anything you could imagine doing as governor to confront that watchlisting system of your citizens in the state of Michigan?
AE-S: We’ve got a responsibility to keep our country safe, but the way we do that is not by this covert system of surveillance, you know, this sort of gotcha system where people get entrapped. It is about actually embracing all people as Michiganders and as Americans. It’s about making sure that everybody has a great shot at their best life. It’s about uprooting the fear and the intolerance that exists on both sides of a conversation and it’s about making sure that all of us believe that in spirit and in practice that our government dignifies us. That is the way forward if we truly want to build a Michigan and an America where we don’t have to worry about the threat of terrorism.
I think as governor, there’s a real responsibility to reach out and to build infrastructure around making sure that people who have felt marginalized by the system and are therefore susceptible to, you know, these sort of strains of conversation, that they have a way in. That they feel like, in our state, that we look out for them and that they’re just as American as anyone else.
I’ll be honest, right? I’ve never, ever wanted to run to be the first Muslim anything but I do think that for a lot of people being able to see somebody who looks a little bit more like them, has a name a little bit more like theirs, who prays like them, that that says something about who we are as a country and who we are as a state and I think that is some of the most important things that we can do. And say: Listen, we are truly going to be inclusive. We are going to make sure that you have the language skills, that you have the training and that you have the access necessary to build a great life for yourself and for your family.
JS: For our listeners, I just want to point out that you were a Rhodes Scholar. You also have a doctorate in public health from Oxford University and a medical degree from Columbia and you are campaigning on a platform of single-payer healthcare at the state level in Michigan. And I’ve seen you say before that you think you could succeed where states like Vermont, where they did have a pretty bold effort to try to get single-payer, have fallen short. How do you accomplish that in the State of Michigan?
AE-S: You know, the facts on the ground in Michigan are that everybody in the state either went through the experience of losing a job and losing healthcare or they know somebody who’s very close to them that did. And that set of experiences, that’s not forgotten for people.
And in Michigan, we were the canary in the coalmine in 2008 — nobody was hit as hard as our state was. And when you stand up with people and say: “Listen, we’ve got the opportunity to make sure that nobody goes through that experience ever again.” And, by the way, we can make sure that the average family will save $5,000 a year in costs, both in health care and in auto insurance and also in prescription drugs. Oh, and by the way, businesses will save, too? I think that’s an opportunity that a lot of Michiganders aren’t going to pass up.
And so I know that when we are willing to message on this issue, when we’re willing not to apologize or to create some sort of unnecessary compromise to appease some large corporations whose CEOs make millions of dollars every year, when we’re willing just to be forthright and say: “Listen, we’re not going halfway, we’re going all the way and we’re doing this because we don’t want you or your loved ones ever to go through what you had to go through in 2008 ever again. Everybody will have healthcare, you’ll get the same healthcare as the CEO of a big company and, by the way, you’ll save a lot of money, I know, I know every day we win the messaging. Now, it’s not to say that the insurers and the hospital industry aren’t to do everything they can to try and sink this, but the fact of the matter is that Michiganders in their core know the experience of losing health care and that existential experience, that speaks louder than any million dollar messaging campaign that the CEOs of Blue Cross, Blue Shield or Health Alliance Plan or Meridian are going to try to throw at this.
JS: What’s the latest on Flint and what are you going to do for the residents of Flint who have just been treated like garbage, not only at the state level in Michigan but also nationally? What’s your plan to address that situation? Not just going forward, but for all of the damage that was done to the people of Flint and the surrounding area.
AE-S: Look, Jeremy: Flint still doesn’t have clean water and we have to deal with that fact. Whatever folks want to use these tests and say, “Well, look! It’s back to normal!” It’s not. If you go into people’s homes, they’ll show you brown, dirty water and they’re used to being lied to by their government.
We’ve got a responsibility to bring a level of accountability and transparency to Michigan State Government generally but, in particular, when it comes to the city of Flint.
I was just in Flint about a week ago and I had the opportunity to pass out water with a young woman name Mari, she goes by Little Miss Flint. Mari still — still — almost every week passes out water to Flint residents and the lines of cars go way out the parking lot. Right? Thousands of bottles of water because people in Flint are still suffering four years later.
We’ve got a responsibility to the long-term here, and that is a structural responsibility.
Number one, we’ve got to get the leaded pipes out of Flint and the fact that this still has not happened is a testament to the broken bureaucracy that created the crisis in the first place and has failed to solve it, whether that is federal or state or local.
Second, we’ve got to make sure that the consequences of lead poisoning are dealt with. Now, the single best thing you can do for a young child who’s been exposed to lead is to make sure that they have long-lasting cognitive stimulation and that is school. Schools in Flint have been failing for a long time, frankly schools in Michigan have been failing, but in urban communities like Flint it is at its worst. We’ve got to stand up for K-12, but also universal access to early childhood education and we’ve got to make sure that every child in the state of Michigan, in particular in Flint, coming from a home earning less than $150,000 a year, has a path to a tuition-free, debt-free, two- or four-year educational path in the state.
But then even still we’ve got to make sure that those kids have healthcare because we know that the consequences of lead poisoning, they’re drawn out over a long period of time. Lead is insidious, it bakes itself into your bones and it leaches out over a long period of time. A lot of what we have right now in terms of universal access to healthcare, those programs are on the chopping block, particularly given what we’re seeing in the Trump Administration. So we as a state need to stand up.
JS: Final question: Your primary is coming up on August 7th. You have two other opponents that you’re running against. Between now and August 7, what do you believe needs to happen in order for you to win?
AE-S: We’ve got to touch voters and we’ve always known that we are the only movement in this race and we’re the only campaign that is having real conversations with voters. We’ve made over a million voter contact; that’s twofold the other candidates combined. And I knew when I jumped into this race that this could not be about me and I’m so thankful that it has become about us in Michigan, about the conversation we’re having about the kind of Michigan we want to build for ourselves, our kids and our grandkids. And that conversation of us, the conversation that we all are having with our loved ones and our neighbors and the people we work with, those are the conversations that create a politics of us and our job is just to keep pushing that forward.
JS: Abdul El-Sayed, thank you very much for joining us on Intercepted.
AE: It’s my privilege, Jeremy. Thank you for a stimulating conversation and unless we’re willing to have these conversations, we won’t be willing to move on them as a society and the status quo wins. And we’ve got a lot of work to do to build an America and to build a Michigan that dignifies all of us and that starts with airing and speaking our truths.
JS: Abdul El-Sayed is running for governor of Michigan. He is a candidate in the Democratic primary that’s coming up on August 7. To check out more on this gubernatorial race, you can read my colleague Zaid Jilani’s reporting for The Intercept. He’s been covering it extensively.
JS: The Trump Administration’s family separation policy has resulted in some 3,000 children placed in government custody. A federal judge ordered the government to reunite children under five with their parents by July 10th, and older kids by July 26th. While the government is scrambling to — supposedly — meet those deadlines,
once reunited families will still face enormous challenges. Recently, at our live show, organizer, and educator and prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba, pointed out that the call for family reunification was not enough and she drew a connection to the larger U.S. prison system.
As a long time activist working to dismantle the U.S. carceral system, Kaba asked: Why are we only asking to stop family separation? Why not ask for more? Why can’t we imagine more than reform of a broken, inhumane system?
Mariame Kaba: — Keep families together, no incarceration, no criminalization? Can those be part of like the conversation?
I think we are we are just – like we just allow ourselves to constantly be in these positions where we are asking for this small little thing rather than asking for the things we actually want. We need to ask for the things he actually wants and stop like already free-redacting ourselves so that we can be “heard” by these jackasses.
They’re never going to listen to us! You know, our job is to build power, to take what the fuck we want. That’s our job. So let’s do that. [Audience applauds.]
JS: Mariame Kaba illustrates how quickly and easily the keep families together message was co-opted. So what we have now is a new official policy from the Trump Administration, which claims to be about keeping families seeking refuge together but together in detention until their cases can be processed and that could well mean indefinitely.
The U.S. incarcerates more migrants than any other country in the world: 40,000 people per day, according to Freedom for immigrants, an organization working to end immigration detention. Perhaps this isn’t a surprise, as the U.S. has long held the title for the world’s largest jailer. Given the striking parallels between U.S. immigration and criminal justice policies, we wanted to revisit our more in-depth conversation with Mariame Kaba from 2017. In that conversation, she retraces the evolution of the U.S. prison system from convict leasing to three-strikes law and the devastating generational impact that these policies have disproportionately had on black and brown communities.
JS: Now, you refer to yourself as an abolitionist. What do you mean by that?
MK: Abolition for me is a long-term project, and also a practice around creating the conditions that would allow for the dismantling of prisons, policing and surveillance, and the creation of new institutions that actually work to keep us safe, and are not fundamentally oppressive. What you need to make those conditions happen, you have to be for addressing environmental issues, you have to be for making sure people have a living wage economically, I think — I know for me, it’s important to be anti-capitalist. All those things feed into creating the conditions that would lead to the end of the things I want to see, and the bringing into being of the things I want to have.
JS: For people who don’t have a loved one that’s been to prison, haven’t been to prison themselves, who just sort of view prison as a place where people who commit crimes go —
JS: Set a kind of context for people of the institution of imprisonment in the United States and what that looks like.
MK: Prison itself is a reform. I think that’s something that most people don’t think about, right? Prisons haven’t always existed. They came into being, especially in the United States, because people were trying to react against capital punishment and corporal punishment, which were seen at the time, by particularly Quakers, as incredibly inhumane. So, initially, the reform itself was not meant to be a brutalizing thing. But isolation itself is actually brutal.
Over the years, prisons have been spaces where we’ve sent the people we don’t like, or the people we want to manage and control socially. Early, before the Civil War, most people who were locked up were not actually black people, because almost every black person in the country was enslaved. Immediately after, you know, Emancipation, all of a sudden, the literally complexion of prisons change, and black people become kind of hyper-targets of that system. And we create new laws, the black codes, other things like that, convict lease system comes into being as a way to continue to exploit the labor of the people who are now newly free.
The reason to talk about that history is also to demystify for people how and why people ended up behind bars initially, that it wasn’t really about real crime, but it was about a perception of blacks as inherently criminal in order to continue to control blacks, who people thought after enslavement actually didn’t have a right to be free, that black people couldn’t manage freedom. And that was the story that got told. And so, the prison became a site for continuing to control blackness. And we have arrived in the late 1960s, when there was a rise in murder and in robberies particularly. So, kind of violent crimes are rising at the same time as the Black Power movement is also expanding. And these two things are being brought together.
Bobby Seale: Well, now, brother Martin King exhausted the means of nonviolence with his life being taken by some racist. What is being done to us is what we hate, and what happened to Martin Luther King is what we hate. You’re darn right we respect nonviolence. But to sit and watch ourselves be slaughtered like our brother? We must defend ourselves, as Malcolm X said, by any means necessary.
MK: The story that gets told is that, you know, it’s mainly Nixon who comes in and puts in the kind of War on Drugs, the beginning of the War on Drugs, and he was like, the Republicans are to blame for how the carceral state got built more massively.
Richard Nixon: America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.
MK: Between 1825 until, like, the late 1960s, the prison population is stable. It’s pretty low. In the late 1960s, you’ve got all these scholars and activists talking about the end of prison. People are talking about the prison as being over. So, you have to think about like how we went from like the end of prison to all of a sudden, the largest jailer in the whole entire international sphere in the world becomes the United States. And that’s because of a set of policies that come into play, and those policies are bipartisan policies, but really take off with Johnson, where Johnson wants to fight the War on Poverty, and he gives in on creating a war on crime arm of the War on Poverty. And what do the Republicans do, which they always do so well? They want to defund the poverty angle, and they want to keep the war on crime.
JS: What was the motivation in your assessment of these politicians, both Democrats and Republicans?
MK: It was “the riots.” It was the images of those young black people in Watts, and 1964 in Harlem and all these places where there were “urban disorder and urban unrest.” And the faces of that were black young people.
Newscaster: Six days of rioting in the Negro section of Los Angeles left behind scenes reminiscent of war-torn cities. More than a hundred square blocks were decimated by fire and looters, and few buildings were left intact. Firemen were harassed by snipers and brick-throwing hoodlums as they attempted to control the fires, many of which were left to burn themselves out.
MK: This is why you can’t talk about incarceration, criminalization in this country without understanding the history of blackness and black people in this country, the ways in which the politicians have used us basically as the fuel to make things happen, that then bleed out to the rest of the population. So, we’re always the canaries in the coal mine. We go into Bill Clinton and what he does with the 1994 crime bill.
President Bill Clinton: When I sign this crime bill, we together are taking a big step toward bringing the laws of our land back into line with the values of our people, and beginning to restore the line between right and wrong.
MK: Which actually doesn’t have that much of an impact in terms of spiking the numbers even higher. What he does it give people more of an ideological basis to continue to do what they’ve been doing. He was one of the most destructive presidents for black people. And we’re still trying to recover from his reign, both in terms of what he put into place around immigration and immigrant detention. A lot of people don’t think about that as black, but the people who are most incarcerated within immigrant detention are disproportionately black immigrants.
JS: Well, and of course, you had this massive atrocity that happened at Guantanamo.
JS: With Haitians —
MK: That’s right.
JS: — who were fleeing violence that the United States sponsored in the form of overthrowing Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
JS: And then you had — I think a lot of people, particularly young people, don’t know this history. Before Guantanamo was the place where Bush stuck people extra-judicially in the so-called War on Terror, Clinton piled up the bodies inside of Guantanamo of the first independent black republic in the Western hemisphere, Haiti.
MK: That’s right. It came back to haunt Hillary Clinton in Miami with the Haitians that were there not voting for her, right? So, there’s — people have long memories. But welfare reform, or what we call welfare deform, had such a disproportionate impact, particularly on single black mothers. The ways in which the carceral state was kind of reinforced and made much more brutal through the three-strikes laws, through the mandatory minimum sentences, which were up through his horrific behavior around rushing back to Arkansas during his election to go and put somebody who was mentally disabled to death, right? He really set in place the apparatus that we are still trying to dismantle today.
JS: Under Obama, you had several incendiary killings that happened. You had George Zimmerman murdering Trayvon Martin; you had the shooting of Mike Brown. And we can go down a whole list of people. I remember as a kid growing up in Milwaukee, the police shooting an unarmed black man named Ernest Lacy.
Newscaster: 1981. Ernest Lacy suffocated in the back of a police van after officers arrested him for a rape he didn’t commit.
JS: These kinds of killings have always happened in this country.
MK: Always, yeah.
JS: What was it about this string of incidents that seemed to rejuvenate a rebellious atmosphere in this country that was in large part led by young African Americans and other people of color across this country? And they weren’t being organized by Al Sharpton or some national network; it was a spontaneous response. Given that this has happened from the beginning of this republic to black people from white people in authority or people with a badge, what was it about that particular moment that seemed to spark this uprising?
MK: Almost every urban uprising that has occurred in the country’s history has police violence at its root. So, if you look at the 1935 Harlem “riots,” or Harlem uprising, at the core of it is a rumor that a young Puerto Rican boy is killed, but he wasn’t actually killed. And that sparks the conflagration.
In 1943, that rebellion in Harlem, also at the root was Marjorie Polite and this young man, and the police basically being accused of having shot him. That’s a conflagration.
1964 is also a young black man who’s shot by the cops in New York City.
Male Speaker (1964): In the name of God, please go home and protect the dignity of our Harlem community!
Crowd chanting: “Bring back Malcolm X! Bring back Malcolm X!”
Acting Mayor Paul Screvane: I view these developments with the utmost seriousness, and have given approval to all necessary steps to ensure and maintain the rule of law and order in this as well as all other parts of the city to ensure, for example, against the disorder by contagion.
MK: If you look at just the history of all the different uprisings, you can go back to the early 1900s, and all of those are cases that are sparked by police brutality. And the reason that that’s the case, and it’s always been the case in this country, is because it is the most clear example of being treated unjustly in the country. It’s the clearest way that almost every black person can see that they are second-class. In other things, it’s diffuse, right? We know there are poor people. But if you yourself are not poor, in this country, you can pretend they don’t exist. And that includes black people. You can live in a way that, like, ignores the black poor people. Except that many, many black people are tied to poor people anyway, even if they left their communities, most of — a lot of their family still is struggling. So, we see it in a different kind of way. But just not having the right to exist, to walk down the street without being harmed, that consistent knowledge of that is something that —
JS: By the people who taxpayers are financing to supposedly keep order and safety.
MK: The gatekeepers of the state are turning, literally, their guns on us. And so, it is a, like — it’s a sight that makes sense, where people feel a direct visceral sense that this is friggin’ unfair. What are they doing to us? And that’s been along the way. I think this most — that’s why it’s important to put the movement for black lives that continues to happen right now in its proper context. It’s only part of a long freedom struggle that has gone on in this country for as long as black people have been here
JS: Because I know you’re originally from New York, but you’ve spent the past years organizing and working in Chicago, where you also studied. And I’m curious about what your analysis is of the very high murder rate in Chicago, the proliferation of weapons on the streets, and what the kind of root cause of it is. You know, my family is from Chicago. My dad is from Hyde Park. My brother and sister live in Chicago. And we’ve seen a pretty radical change in the violence levels in Chicago, or at least the reporting on it. And Donald Trump harped on this constantly in the campaign.
DJT: And then you look at Chicago. What’s going on in Chicago?
JS: Chicago became the kind of epic dog whistle for politicians who wanted to say: “The problem is when black people have guns.” And Chicago is basically, well — Spike Lee said “Chi-Raq,” but, you know, you had Lupe Fiasco the hip-hop artist say, “Well, we need General Stanley McChrystal to come in here and take control of Chicago.” What is at the heart of the violence that we’re seeing right now in Chicago, in your view?
MK: In Chicago, you have to look at the whole history of what has happened. First and foremost, the last three years have been where we’ve seen homicide rates go up. But that preceded almost 15 years of it consistently going down.
I think that you have to look at the disinvestment that has been going on in the last ten years. Things take time to catch up. I mean, and this is a city run by Democrats; it’s a city that is the test case for neoliberal economics of all different sorts: the privatization of schools, the privatization of mental health clinics, the ways in which economic violence is being done to particular communities on the West and on the South sides of Chicago. Those are the places that are the most dangerous. There’s an inequality to violence in Chicago. You can be on the North side in downtown, living your life; it’s like you’re living in another country. So, I think that there are many, many reasons for why this is, and I think we’re gonna be in a moment where we’re gonna see whether or not we’re gonna revert back to the lock them up kind of way of the late 1980s and ‘90s, or that we’ve learned anything.
JS: What’s the significance of Jeff Sessions being the attorney general?
MK: I think he’s a racist ideologue, clearly. I would not have wanted him to be the dogcatcher-in-chief. He should not be in office. He should not – it was good that he wasn’t a judge, you know? All those things are true.
He is a racist ideologue who is overseeing a racist, classist, sexist, transphobic system. The criminal punishment system are those things, whether Jeff Sessions is the attorney general or not.
JS: Right. I mean, there’s a level — I mean, I agree with you, and I think there’s a level on which it’s kind of refreshing that the person who is the figurehead actually represents the legacy of the institution.
MK: He represents the actual institution. So, now, you’re gonna have to look at that system to understand that it isn’t one man, but it is the whole damn thing that has to go, right? People keep saying, you know: “The system is guilty. The whole damn system has to go.” And people are chanting. This is absolutely the case in this case.
JS: Yeah, but look at what’s happening in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey, the FBI director. There’s this lionization of the FBI.
JS: And the CIA, for that matter, by the Democrats. But on the Comey issue, it’s really is like, oh my god, Jim Comey was the last honest man in this country, and the FBI was keeping us safe and has all this integrity. What is your response to the dominant kind of liberal narrative now, white liberal narrative that the FBI is on our side, and they’re the good guys, and they’re the ones keeping us safe?
MK: But white liberals love the cops. I don’t know what to tell you. Like, they always have loved the cops. I don’t know that this is new, you know? Like, the cops are in all of our heads and hearts, but they’re very much in liberals’. You know, think about how the conversation is framed around cops and policing. Think about Obama. The whole — his whole entire conversation of policing has been a few bad apples. But most of the cops are great. No real drilling down on, no, policing as a system itself is corrupt. No. People are — you know, my uncle Johnny is a cop, and he’s great. And I’m like, I don’t care about your uncle Johnny being a nice man. Policing itself is corrupt. So, somebody putting somebody within a corrupt system corrupts them. Whether Johnny’s nice or good, he cannot fight against that system of that, like the blue wall of silence, the ways in which you are forced into being silent when horrible things are happening.
I know cops. I’ve had to interact with them almost my entire adult life in various ways, right? In terms of, you know, either advocating for young people who are being harassed, or being in a space where I’ve actually had to interact with them in rooms where there’s been policy debates and things like that, and they’ll be the first to tell you that it is really impossible to get rid of bad cops. And so, that means it’s a systemic issue, not that it’s a personal issue. So, I feel like the lionization — and I don’t even know if it’s that — I just think like, putting the FBI on a pedestal is just an extension of the love of police in this country.
And you see it with how unpopular in so many quarters Black Lives Matter is, and how uncomfortable white liberals are in dealing with the actual central tenet of white — of Black Lives Matter saying it is the whole system. It’s like, I can deal with the, you know, Darren Wilson being horrible. But you’re talking about, like, ending police? What? That doesn’t even make sense. It doesn’t compute. What I saw with what happened with Comey is that people were — there was a bifurcation. At least what I saw online were people were still pissed off at him for putting that letter out against Clinton. So, the Clinton support folks are still like, eh, we’re not like — they’re not really defending Comey. But they are defending the institution of the FBI, and they want somebody on top that they want to see as a nonpolitical figure, as though anything in this country’s nonpolitical. Every friggin’ decision that gets made is political because all politics is about power, to redistribute resources to the people who want to keep it versus the people who need it. That’s what politics is. That’s why I engage in politics, you know?
JS: What can ordinary people who are living their lives do to contribute to the work that you’re doing or the issues that you are hammering on day in and day out in your work?
MK: I say the first thing people can do is find out who their prosecutor is in your local county. Who is the person with the discretion to lock up people? If you don’t know that person’s name, then it’s your civic duty to find out immediately, to find out what they actually have been doing. Go visit them. They’re down the street from your house. You have the right to go down here and say to them, “Hm, so I’m interested in knowing, like, are you tough on crime? Because if you are, you need to go. The next election, I’m gonna be there with my friends, my 2-7 — you know, my friends from bridge or whatever from the church, and we are gonna vote you out.” You have to talk at your local level. Criminal punishment decisions are made at the local level. I mean, at the county level often, right? And your jails are at the county level. So, pay attention to that. That’s like one thing you can do. It matters who you’ve elected as your district attorney.
Find out who the judges are on the ballots that you get when you go and vote for like your senator and your congresspeople, and that’s the only thing you check off, that’s a dereliction of duty. Find out who the hell the judges are. Bar associations and other people always put out lists. Look and see who is being recommended and why, and start voting against those people. As soon as they notice that the public is no longer down for stuff, trust me, they change. They’re politicians. They respond to pressure, you know? So, I think that would be my second suggestion.
And my third suggestion is, listen, it is really, really important not to allow people to demagogue you. Stop assuming that “safety” means imprisonment; it means more punishment. Start getting the punishment mindset shifted in your mind, so that when you see somebody who is other than you, that your fear factor that is like conditioned by all the messages you’ve gotten your entire life about who to be afraid of, like challenge that within yourself for real, and stop being at every point demagogued into locking up people, putting up walls, creating new borders. End that within yourself, and try to change people in your own circles’ ideas about who should — and stop — especially if you’re liberal and progressive — stop calling for people to be locked up every day. “Oh, so-and-so’s a war criminal and they should go to prison!” Listen. Everybody shouldn’t be going to prison. That’s the point. Stop playing into those ideas that every time something happens, your first inclination is to think about the prosecution and court system as the way to solve that problem. We all do it instinctively. I don’t, because I’ve like literally trained myself out of that over many, many years. But I see it all the time with friends of mine. The first thing that happens, jail the bankers. Really? You think that jailing some Goldman Sachs guys is what is gonna end capitalism? No, it’s not! And by the way, I don’t want Darren Wilson even locked up. Like, you know, like that’s hard for people to like fathom, because like, this is a killer cop. Of course he should go to jail. No, not even him!
So, I think we have to like reframe our thinking and get out of the criminal, like the punishment mindset that we have. It infects everything. It’s not just the criminal punishment system. It’s the way we treat our children. It’s the way we treat our community friends. It’s the way we look at young people in the streets and immediately assume that they’re doing something negative because they’re hanging out on the corner. It infects everything. So, I want people to change that, to, you know, change their mindset and think about people as — build new relationships with each other in order to be able to keep ourselves safe.
JS: Mariame Kaba, thank you very much for joining us on Intercepted.
MK: Thanks for having me.
JS: Mariame Kaba is the founder of Project NIA, it’s a grassroots organization with a vision to ending youth incarceration. She’s also one of the sharpest people I know on Twitter, where her handle is @prisonculture.
JS: EPA director Scott Pruitt resigned late last week, finally, after a slew of ethical scandals left him the subject of 18 — 18 — federal probes into his spending and management decisions. Pruitt received a lot of public anger at his incompetence and his apparent corruption, and here’s what one mother said to him at a restaurant a few days before he resigned.
Kristin Mink: We deserve to have somebody at the EPA who actually does protect our environment. Somebody who believes in climate change and takes it seriously for the benefit of all of us, including our children. So, I would urge you to resign before your scandals push you out.
JS: So as Pruitt was traveling around in luxury on private planes and first-class seats, installing a $43,000 soundproof booth for his office, spending more than a thousand dollars on a pair of tactical pants, dropping $4.6 million dollars of EPA money on security, he was furiously deregulating environmental protection policies at a time when global temperatures continue to break record highs and have been spiking for the last three consecutive years: 2016 was the hottest year ever recorded. So, of the 17 hottest years on record 16 — 16 — have occurred since 2000.
And now, Andrew Wheeler, the acting director of the EPA, he’s probably going to continue with the same disastrous deregulation policies, maybe with less scandal and less public outcry. Climate change is being completely ignored, even called a Chinese hoax by the Trump Administration. And Trump, along with Justin Trudeau of Canada, have made it abundantly clear that there is just no standing up to more oil drilling, more dirty energy sources and more pipelines. The Indigenous-led, yearlong fight against the Dakota access pipeline was ultimately unsuccessful. Water protectors put their bodies on the line to battle against brutal physical harm and surveillance by both local law enforcement and the private security company Tiger Swan. And similar to that resistance at Standing Rock, for the last few years in Canada there has been protest over a proposed expansion to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline and it’s now escalating. Justin Trudeau’s government has recently bought the Trans Mountain Pipeline, nationalizing it for $4.5 billion dollars from Kinder Morgan — that’s an American company by the way — and it’s a huge setback for activists, First Nation groups, climate scientists and, ultimately, all of us who live on this planet.
Well, one Canadian filmmaker who spent time at Standing Rock made a new documentary not about that protest but rather about some young women she met while at the occupation. Those young women came from the nearby Bakken oil fields in North Dakota. The documentary short is called “Nuuca” and it’s a nuanced exploration of the brutal transformation that happened in one North Dakota community. The film follows three young, Indigenous women who struggle with an influx of men rising rates of sexual abuse, rape and kidnapping.
Michelle Latimer: Bonjour, hello, my name is Michelle Latimer and I’m a Métis/Algonquin filmmaker based in Toronto, Canada. I made a film called “Nuuca,” which is actually the literal translation in Hidatsa; it means “Take.” And the film is a documentary — I would say examination — of how Indigenous women and girls have been affected by the onset of the oil industry in the Bakken oil fields and the onset of the man camps and the influx of people that have sort of come there to procure work in the oil fields.
Clip from Nuuca: Growing up here, it was pretty quiet, isolated. We played outside a lot, made mud-pies, played with my dogs. And my parents didn’t really have to worry about watching me very much.
ML: So Nuuca takes place in Fort Berthold, North Dakota, and it’s the home of the three affiliated tribes Mandan, Arikara and Hidatsa nations. And since 2006, oil production in this area has increased 150-fold. The Bakken oil fields are a large swath of land in North Dakota where there’s been a high level of fracking and oil industry. And basically in the last 10 years, the population has more than doubled — mostly with non-Indigenous oil workers coming in to work in the oil fields.
And just to paint a visual picture of the landscape, it’s a prairie town, so you have an expanse of sky and very flat, sort of rolling, green hills. But when you start to crest onto the land of Fort Berthold, what’s very unusual is you start to see almost like matchsticks, flares or fire burning in the distance. And as you get closer to these — and there are hundreds dotting the horizon, it’s quite post-apocalyptic in what it looks like, it’s very, it’s just non-human it’s not something you recognize — and as you get closer, you realize that these are actually flares coming from the drill sites and they make a sound. And that was something I didn’t expect either. So as you get closer to the pumping stations you hear “rr-ee-rr-ee” and then as you get closer to the flares you hear this very sort of dissonant sound of like a humming, like this like “huhhhhh” as the fire kind of escapes from the flare.
I actually had been working and documenting the standoff in Standing Rock since the very beginning. And when I was at the camp of Sacred Stones, which was the first occupation camp that ballooned into the Oceti Sakowin camp during the occupation at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline, I met a group of women who came from the Fort Berthold native reservation and they were basically there to tell me about what happened on the reservation and how their lives had been affected because of the oil fields. And it was sort of a cautionary tale, because they were sharing with these other young women from Standing Rock what could happen to their community. And it was really brave of them to describe their experience, which was, essentially, they told me that girls had gone missing, had been kidnapped, that they didn’t feel safe walking home from school, they didn’t feel safe going for a jog at night; their whole lives had changed in terms of who they could trust and what their community was like. And they could be sold into sex slaves, sold to multiple men — just the fear in their eyes, it was so palpable when I heard their stories. And I’d never experienced anything like that. And I thought to myself: This is a story that needs to be told.
Clip from Nuuca: Being safe within your home, within your homeland, it should just be like an actual feeling, you know? And it’s like, not.
ML: I’d only ever been to one landscape before that shocked me in the way Fort Berthold shocked me and that was the Canadian tar sands, the Alberta tar sands. And I recall when I saw the tar sands for the first time thinking: If I ever have an opportunity to show people what it’s really like to be in these landscapes, I’m going to do that.
So that when I was working in Standing Rock, a lot of the elders would tell me stories about, you know, you cannot divorce the rape of the land with the rape of our women and girls. And this attitude of consumption, this pervasive attitude where you consume for your own wealth, it extends to all things. It’s actually a philosophy that has come with colonization. And so the attacks against women, in order to control and own the land for state wealth and power, has been something that has been happening in North America since time immemorial, since the settlement of this very land. And so the history, and when it becomes a reality today, is actually something that has happened for hundreds and hundreds of years.
And, you know, and interestingly today, Native Americans are the greatest risk of sexual violence. They’re two times as likely to be raped or assaulted as any other race and one in three Native American women will be sexually assaulted in a lifetime. So these are very real statistics.
Clip from Nuuca: And just as the land is being used, women are now being used. There’s been abductions — girls being chased. The man camps, they kind of took over. It makes me feel really uncomfortable, because I don’t know who could be driving by.
ML: I think because the women were all very young that we spoke to, I thought it was very interesting to sort of chart sort of an innocence where one might feel very safe, you know? It seems to be a natural mindset to think like: I’m safe in my homeland. You know, especially if that’s been how you’re raised, you’re raised on the land, you’re outside, you, you know, you’re with your family, it’s a very small community, you know most people within that. And then one day, this very land that you’ve built your home and your culture and your language from becomes the thing that is mined for resources and an influx of new people come in and strangers and everything changes.
And one of the things I didn’t expect when I went to Fort Berthold, but it’s sort of a symptom of the industry there, was the high amounts of highway traffic: big oil tankers and transport trucks moving very, very quickly through the town. And with that comes, you know, an increase in gas stations, and hotels, and migrant workers in restaurants, and I think that that was really surprising for me.
And, in Canada, which is where I reside and where my community is from, we have an epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. And this is something we’re seeing all over in North America, and I don’t think it’s unique. I think we have to look at the social factors that have contributed to these things. And I think the expansion of fossil fuels and the way resources are sort of — and the land — is tilled in the name of progress are directly responsible for the very social factors we see that contribute to women who have gone missing in Indigenous communities.
Jayli Fimbres: [Speaking Hidatsa] Take only what you need.
ML: One of the young women in the film is learning her language Hidatsa, which I believe the last Hidatsa speaker passed away this past year, so it’s really a revitalization of the language. And Jayli was learning this language at the time of we were filming and she graciously spoke this phrase to us. And I purposely didn’t subtitle it in the beginning of the film, because I wanted people to just hear this, I mean, incredible language, and then we subtitle it at the end of the film.
And “take only what you need” is a suggestion that you only take what is required to exist. You don’t — just because you can kill 100 hundred buffalo doesn’t mean you kill 100 buffalo. It means you might kill one buffalo to feed your community for that season, and I think that that idea of balance and relationship to all living creatures, as Indigenous people, that’s at the heart of our belief system.
And so these capitalistic ideas of consumption or, you know, take things at all cost, it’s about numbers and quantity and mass production, is inherently against what we believe is Indigenous people to be true and sustainable to this planet that we’re living on. And so a lot of people paint Indigenous people as these environmental warriors, but it’s so much more than that. It’s not really about the environment as much as it is about a philosophy in life, about having balance, about caring for one another and about having a relational attitude towards all living beings.
JS: That was Michelle Latimer, talking about her documentary “Nuuca” which was produced by Field of Vision. She spoke to my colleague Elise Swain.
You can find that documentary in full at theintercept.com, with an accompanying piece by Intercept reporter Alleen Brown. She’s been extensively reporting on Standing Rock.
JS: That does it for this week show. If you are not yet a sustaining member of Intercepted, log on to theintercept.com/join. You can also follow us on Twitter. Our handle is simply @intercepted.
Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. We are distributed by Panoply.
Our producer is Jack D’Isidoro and our executive producer is Leital Molad. Laura Flynn is associate producer. Elise Swain is our assistant producer and graphic designer. Emily Kennedy does our transcripts. We had engineering help from Rino Dunic.
Rick Kwan mixed the show. And our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky.
Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.