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China's Crackdown on Uyghur Families; Interview With Artist Julie Mehretu; Interview With Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI). Aired 2-3p ET
Aired April 23, 2021 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): We in the Senate are going to stand with our AAPI community and, indeed, any community that is discriminated against.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): As the Senate passes a bill to combat anti-Asian discrimination, I speak to its architect, Senator Mazie Hirono, about
stopping the hate and her own incredible journey.
Then: another tale of two worlds, artist Julie Mehretu on the huge social movements of our time that simmer beneath her abstract murals,.
VIVEK MARU, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: You shouldn't have to choose between having a job and being poisoned.
AMANPOUR: The fight for environmental justice. Hari Sreenivasan digs in with legal advocates Vivek Maru and Rhonda Hamilton.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
In a rare moment of bipartisan unity, the United States Senate has overwhelmingly passed a bill this week to combat hate crimes and
discrimination against Asian communities.
The bill also creates a new position at the Justice Department to deal with COVID-related hate crimes.
Here's Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): This bill has a one-two punch, to assure Asian community -- Asian American community we're going after the bigotry against
them and to tell the American people, particularly those bigots, we're going after you, in a legal way, of course.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now, this follows the fatal shooting of six Asian women in Atlanta last month and an increase in violence against Asian Americans
during the pandemic.
It also comes just days after Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd. So, it's been a week where justice and accountability have
been in the spotlight.
Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii is one of the lead sponsors of the legislation. In 2012, she became the first Asian American woman elected
to the Senate. And she's currently the only immigrant serving there. And now she has a new memoir, "Heart of Fire," where she chronicles her own
And Senator Hirono joins me now from Washington.
Welcome to the program.
First, I guess, really, congratulations on getting such an overwhelming bipartisan bill passed to stop these hate crimes against Asian Americans.
Tell me how you did it. Obviously, it was something that needed to happen, but how did you do it in this sort of dysfunctional Congress that we hear
so much about?
HIRONO: When I first introduced this bill, I couldn't get a single Republican to co-sponsor it.
However, we were all watching the news and watching Asian women and Asian people, Pacific Islanders being kicked, being slapped, being slashed, all
of that. You could not help but recognize that this was happening in our country in every single state, including the District of Columbia.
As so, as we put this bill to the floor -- and I can thank Chuck Schumer for really fast-tracking this bill -- then there grew some discussion
around it. And I think the Republicans decided that perhaps they should be on board too.
But it took some time, negotiations with particularly between me and Susan Collins, which I really welcomed, to get this bill on the floor. We had to
fend off some damaging amendments. And, ultimately, every one but one Republican who were present that day voted for the bill.
AMANPOUR: Yes, you know what? I'm not even sure it's worth really sort of talking about that one, because it's such an absolute minority.
AMANPOUR: So, the real issue and the fact is that you have won this battle for human rights.
And it comes amid some really shocking statistics. Let me just read you. You know this but, obviously, but 81 percent of Asian Americans say
violence against them is rising in the United States. That's according to Pew.
The number of hate crimes against Asians increased by 150 percent in 2020. That's according to the Cal State University. And the group Stop AAPI Hate
got almost 4,000 reports of these incidents just since March.
And, of course, leaders in many Asian countries around the world have been voicing their consternation and their concern about this.
Do you have any particular single theory about why this has exploded to this level right now?
HIRONO: I start with the fact that racism is never far below the surface, and the AAPI community has always been viewed as the other, the perpetual
So, you have laws, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act being passed in our country. You have the internment of 120,000 Asian Americans during World
War II. You have the Muslim ban.
And, of course, there is the systemic racism against the black community. But the Asian community has always been seen as, I mentioned, the other and
felt quite invisible, except during this time of COVID and a president who continued to refer to this virus as the Chinese virus, his administration
people calling it the kung-flu.
It creates an environment where the animus against AAPIs, the other comes forth in horrible ways, as you mentioned, the shooting in Georgia. There,
to allow the perpetrator to create the narrative of his crime was just -- it goes to show that these crimes are very much underreported in our
AMANPOUR: So, AAPI, just to say, is Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
AMANPOUR: But this comes, as I said, the very week that one of the great racial injustices, the murder of George Floyd, was finally held
accountable, the conviction of the former officer who killed him.
And yet there is a bill that is -- that's in the Senate. It's called the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. And that -- well, you tell me. Does
that have a hope of passing?
HIRONO: I know that the prime architect of that bill in the Senate is Cory Booker. And he is in discussions with Tim Scott, who is a Republican.
And Tim had the bill that the Republicans were pushing forward last year, which was very weak. The two of them are in discussions. And I do think
that, if we can convince Tim to come more toward where the Democratic bill is, then I would hope that the rest of Tim's Republican colleagues, most of
them -- there will always be the holdouts -- will come around.
But it is going to take a lot of negotiations, I would say.
AMANPOUR: It's -- it almost beggars belief that it will take so much negotiation...
AMANPOUR: ... since we have seen with our own eyes why it is so vitally needed.
So, I want to ask you this. A lot of black people in the United States are, on the one hand, pleased clearly and people around the world that this
conviction happened, but, on the other hand, are concerned about precisely what we're talking about, whether there will be federal legislation,
whether there will really be from the top down some kind of end to some of this impunity.
And some are worried that a conviction or, indeed, legislation that you have just passed might take the spotlight off. People might say, oh, look,
OK, we have got that conviction -- and I'm talking about Derek Chauvin now -- and maybe the spotlight will be off us and we can just sort of carry on
as usual and not have to do the hard things in Congress.
Are you worried about that?
HIRONO: How can one conviction wipe out the fact that there's systemic racism and disparate policing in our country?
And it existed before this trial, before this accountability. And it exists now. And that's why, even more than ever and since the trial, you have seen
other black people being shot down. And so the issue is before us. The concern is there. We need to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
I feel a sense of urgency about it. It should not be swept under the rug. And we need to pass it. We may need to -- I would say we may need to change
the filibuster rule, so that we can get this bill to the floor and pass it with fewer than the 60 votes that the Republican leader would like us to
continue to maintain.
AMANPOUR: Let's talk about your journey, because the legislation you have helped direct and pass and all your time as an elected official comes from
real personal childhood experience.
I mean, you talked about the internment of Asians, mostly Japanese, during World War II in the United States. You are -- you come -- you are a
Japanese family. And you came over to the United States when you were, I think, a young girl.
How did that childhood shape the legislator you are today?
HIRONO: I was brought to this country by a very courageous, risk-taking mother, who totally changed my life by bringing me to this new country that
I knew nothing about.
And so, as an immigrant, and family struggling, I watched my mother work two jobs, very low pay, no benefits. It certainly informed how I saw what I
should be doing when I entered political life, when I finally decided that that was the route that my life was going to take.
And so my life experience certainly informs who I fight for, why. And I never forget where I came from.
AMANPOUR: So, You have dedicated the book to your mother, and you have just described her as this incredibly courageous woman who brought you and
one of your brothers over.
There is a passage that I'd like you to read from the book, your mother, of course, called Laura Chie. And you do have a passage that is about her.
Please read that for us, if you would.
"Disappointment would never destroy our mother. She had a heart of fire and would always pick herself up and try something else, seek another way
forward. Mom didn't believe in feeling sorry for herself or in bemoaning her circumstances. She intended to take care of us. And, in that purpose,
she never wavered, always looking out for next opportunity to prepare herself to meet whatever challenges it might hold."
AMANPOUR: And I believe she recently died at a very grand old age.
HIRONO: Yes, 96. So, she passed away about a month ago.
HIRONO: And it's a loss that I feel every day.
But I have wonderful memories of how my mother really took charge of her life. And the biggest take-charge was to bring all of her children and
escape from my abusive father, who I never got to know. That took a lot of courage at a time in Japan where women -- they still don't -- gather
themselves up like this and take charge of their lives and bring their children along with them to create a better life.
AMANPOUR: OK, so I want to ask you a question, because you just -- you just mentioned that people may not expect women from Asia to be so take-
And in many of the articles and in some of the research, there is an extraordinary story about how you were maybe looked at like that when you
first came into the Senate. And the dean of female senators, Barbara Mikulski, said what to you and what did you respond?
HIRONO: There was a time when, in the Senate, I wanted to be named to the Appropriations Committee, which Barbara chaired.
And on the floor of the Senate, she started to talk to me about how you need to do this or you need to be more vocal. You need to -- I was really
surprised, but I was on the floor of the Senate. I wasn't going to debate it with her.
But there was another occurrence shortly thereafter when a group of Democratic women were in her hideaway. And she started to say something
along the lines of, "And as I told Mazie, she needs to be" -- and I just looked at her.
And I said, "Barbara, you know nothing about me. You don't know what it took for me to get here. You don't know what my culture is. I did not get
here to be told what to do by you."
She stopped immediately. She apologized. And, of course, I have since become very, very vocal in my views. And I love and respect Barbara. We are
friends. And she did at one point tell me: "I don't know what I was thinking when I said those things to you, Mazie. I'm very sorry."
AMANPOUR: Yes, I mean, it's -- I mean, I don't know about her, but it's, in general, unconscious or conscious bias about what people expect when
they look at people.
AMANPOUR: And I wanted to ask you, because you have become really fiery. You were never known as a firebrand.
And you are -- I mean, you have no holds barred, the -- I mean, some of your salty language, some of the people you hold accountable. What
happened? And that's just recently. That's in the last four years, really.
HIRONO: I have always been a very determined person. I just didn't have to be so noisy about it.
I come from a culture in Hawaii, as well as my background as a Japanese person, and a woman, where being outspoken, confrontational, verbal is not
particularly rewarded, especially when it comes from a woman.
However, the election of Donald Trump, this horrible, corrupt person, and all the things he said and all the people he attacked, particularly that
one moment when he attacked my friend Kirsten Gillibrand, saying she had come to see him, begged him for help.
The implication was really horrible. And I just thought, I'm going to step up and say something, encouraged by my communications director, who I had
been complaining to about this kind of behavior from Trump. And there is a group of media people -- it's called the spray -- where there are TV
people, print people. And they all sort of just align them -- they position themselves at the end of a hallway usually.
And I was on my way to a Judiciary Committee hearing, and I saw the spray there. And so I walked up at that moment. And I said, you have a
misogynist, a liar and then a sexual predator, and he should resign. This was in 2017.
And I haven't stopped speaking out since. It's clear to me that...
HIRONO: ... while I did not start using my voice in that way, people appreciate it.
AMANPOUR: Well, particularly when it's directed to real, important change.
So, let me ask you this, President Biden could not be more different, in terms of values and the way he addresses the nation and all its
constituents, than the previous president. And yet, and yet, he has not significantly at all raised the cap for refugees and immigrants into this
As I said, you are the -- you were the first -- I think you're the only current serving immigrant senator. And these figures, Trump took it down to
something like 15,000. And President Biden promised to move it back up to over 100,000.
And he hasn't. And I would like to know whether you're going to hold him accountable to that. And what do you think? Because immigration is
obviously a key issue for the United States and refugees, the protection of people fleeing from terrible conditions, like you did.
HIRONO: Of course.
And he is hearing and has heard from a number of us that he should keep his campaign promise to raise the cap for refugees, which is a very different
category of people than those who are seeking asylum. These are people who have already been vetted.
So, I know that he has said that he will raise the cap. He hasn't made that announcement yet, but I fully expect him to live up to his campaign promise
by doing so.
AMANPOUR: Senator Mazie Hirono, thank you so much for joining us.
And turning now to China's ongoing crackdown on Uyghur families in Xinjiang, which we have been covering on this show.
In late March, this program got the first official Chinese government reaction to CNN's ongoing reporting on two Uyghur families that have been
torn apart. China's ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, claimed to me that it was all fabricated. And he stuck to the government line that Beijing is
fighting just terrorism and religious extremism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CUI TIANKAI, CHINESE AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: There was strong demand by the local people that the government had to do something to stop
So, this has been our priority, to stop the spread of terrorist attacks. Some of them are connected with international groups like ISIS. It was a
very serious threat to the lives and well-being of the people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now, Chinese officials and state TV crews have gone now to interview the very same Uyghur families that CNN profiled to paint a
different picture. They want to paint a picture of happy children enjoying life.
Here are excerpts from correspondent David Culver's latest reporting.
DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is a familiar sight by now, families of Uyghur exiles profiled by international media suddenly
showing up on air and online in Chinese state media stories and posts.
Here, 10-year-old Muhlisa Mamujan (ph) telling state broadcaster CGTN she is living a happy life in her grandparents' house along with her younger
CULVER: Let's try this.
CULVER (voice-over): But just days earlier, when we unexpectedly found her in Kashgar's maze-like Old Town, telling her our colleagues had interviewed
her father, her reactions were quite different.
Amidst her innocence and awareness not to say too much, she told us she had not spoken to her father since 2017.
And when we asked her...
CULVER: What would you want to say to him, if you could talk to him?
CULVER (voice-over): "I miss him," she later told me.
CULVER: Can you tell me some of what you are feeling?
CULVER (voice-over): "I don't have my mom with me right now. I don't have my dad either. I just want to be reunited with them," she told me.
We later showed Muhlisa's father, Mamujan Abdurahim (ph), the video of our encounter with his daughter and parents in Kashgar. He watched from his
home in Adelaide, Australia, overcome by grief for the years lost.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What kind of country does this to people, to innocent people?
CULVER: More than one week after our story aired, in a written statement sent to CNN, the Chinese government accused Mamujan of influencing his wife
with extremist religious and violent terrorist views.
China claims she returned to the country with an assignment of encouraging others to join overseas terrorist groups.
It's locked on the outside, so unless they're gone for the day or they're gone permanently...
CULVER (voice-over): The authorities added that Mamujan's wife, whom we tried to track down in Kashgar, was sentenced to nine years in prison last
June. The charge? Inciting ethnic hatred.
CNN's request to see additional details in the court verdict was rejected.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Mamujan Abdurahim.
CULVER: Mamujan released a video statement in response to China's statement, calling it laughable, and again pushing for his wife to be
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My demand? For the Chinese government to release my wife, Maharma Mohdet (ph), and so many other innocent Uyghurs.
CULVER: CNN's report last month also highlighted the plight of another Uyghur family living near Rome. Nirhiban (ph) and Abley Kim (ph) are still
desperately trying to reunite with their four children.
Following our report, the children say a state media team went to film them at the orphanage. A video was later circulated online showing an edited
interview with the eldest sibling, Zumeriam (ph), who said: "My life is colorful and happy every day."
The Chinese government told CNN in a statement that the four children are leading a normal life and attending local schools. The authorities allege
that the kids parents had abandoned them to become key members of a violent terrorist group, but declined to provide CNN with evidence.
The Uyghur parents in Italy told us the Chinese accusations are baseless. Their eldest boy, Yasia (ph), has since been in touch with his mother. He
told her that he and his siblings have faced repeated interrogation since our attempt to visit them.
The children even tried to send a handwritten note to the Chinese authorities formally requesting to join their parents in Italy, who have
secured Italian visas for them.
AMANPOUR: Now, CNN's David Culver, of course, reporting there from China.
And just to note, that Italian government is working to help the family and is debating whether to join the United States and others in labeling
Chinese actions as genocide.
You can watch the full report on CNN.com.
Next: Great global crises and upheaval also underpinned the incredible work of the American artist Julie Mehretu. She is best known for her
larger-than-life canvas-size murals, tackling war, immigration and racism, the big themes that shape our world.
And now she's having a mid career retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. And she's joining me now from her studio in New
Welcome to the program. Let me just start by asking you, what does this mean to you to have this huge retrospective. Pandemic. Not fully open. You
don't have all the crowds at the museums yet. What does this mean for you?
JULIE MEHRETU, ARTIST: Well, I mean, it's an immense honor to have the exhibition here at the Whitney, especially because it was this museum that
really was formative for me when I first came to New York as a young, very young artist right out of college.
And I saw some of the most important shows that were super, like, really instructive to me as an artist growing up, the Black Male show in '93 or
'94, and the Whitney Biennial in '93.
And so both of those exhibitions were so important to me. To be now in that institution, with such a -- with 25 years of work, it's just an immense
AMANPOUR: So, I was...
MEHRETU: In terms of the pandemic, it's an interesting time, because we don't have the tourist audience that you normally have in New York. And you
don't have the numbers of people. We're at 25 percent capacity in the museum.
But there's this opportunity then to really focus on the local audience. And there's -- and what is the local audience here in Manhattan? What is
the local audience here in the greater New York City -- greater New York area? And how can we get that audience into the museum?
I'm super interested in activating young artists and inspiring and connecting with young artists and aspiring artists throughout all the
boroughs here. And that's really the focus, I think.
AMANPOUR: So, I was fortunate to go to the Whitney and see it, which is really a dramatic experience. It's just -- I mean, it's such, I mean, I
would say, very heavy topics, but it looks so airy and so light in the way it's hung and the way it looks.
And I'm just going to read a couple of the topics that it encompasses. So you do the Syrian war. You do revolution, the Arab Spring, racism, some of
the Black Lives Matter, migration, all of that. And when you stand back, you see one thing. And when you move forward, you see completely something
different, and everything else gets revealed.
Describe to us how you construct those layers upon layers that give you just different views, depending on where you're standing in perspective to
MEHRETU: Well, part of the interest and the scale of the work is that you have this personal engagement that changes as you have described. When you
get closer to the work the entire picture fractures into all these different elements.
And you have to travel through a lot of the large-scale work, so almost in a cinematic type of visceral experience. And then when you pull out from
the work, you get a very different idea of what that image is. When those images change, that experience changes as you experience the work, which
is, I think, parallel to how we try to locate who we are in this world.
And for me, these topics are part of the time and space that I'm working in and trying to negotiate as an artist who I am in that. And so within the
kind of confines of the language of abstraction, that -- and what's possible in abstraction, there's this way to investigate all of the kind of
contradictions that are inherent in the kind of patterns that we do as people and as societies and the larger kind of picture of who we are.
And so there's this constant negotiation between who is one in that larger picture and how much agency does one have? And so in the paintings, I
think, conceptually, there's this play between the marks and the big picture, and how do those interact and inform one another?
AMANPOUR: And we have got -- I want to -- I want to ask you to talk us through Renegade Delirium.
That's something you did in 2002. But what are you saying? How was it made? There's a little video also that accompanies the exhibition. And it does
show your studio, where you have got teams of people who do some of the different work. It's very involved and very, I guess, labor-intensive.
MEHRETU: Yes, the works are pretty layered.
And there are times where at my studio we will have more people, depending on the kind of work it is. And the work has changed so much over the last
25 years. But -- so, there are some of the earlier works that were very laborious with drawing and architectural rendering. There were times where
we would have 13 people working on paintings and other times where, when I was working on the enormous mural that's downtown on 200 West Street, we
had 30 people in the studio in Berlin.
But the real intention is that all of these different forms of visual language are layered in these paintings, abstract geometric forms that
relate to all different kinds of visual images that we understand in our built environment, through all forms of architectural drawing.
And in Renegade Delirium, you have this kind of composite of the capability of collapsing space and time from early amphitheaters, Roman amphitheaters,
through -- and other forms of architecture -- through all the way through futurist plans that hadn't been built or realized.
And all of these can be drawn into one space, almost at this effort of collapsing that kind of time and space and the desires inherent in those
structures. And then the marks and the drawing, which I consider the agents, kind of these social agents, participate within that, but they're
also just visual agents that affect how one participates with the painting.
And, at times, they're really kind of trying to digest, consume and devour the architecture. And, other times, they're really integrated in its
And there are all different forms of other kinds of visual signage that are in those paintings that give somewhat of a clue or some kind of play with
the mythologies that we have societally about how we see and understand our space.
AMANPOUR: And, as I said, you do take on big global issues and big breaking news events that we as journalists cover and have done, I mean,
just the Arab Spring I mentioned, and others.
And I wondered if you could tell us a little bit about your own journey. You are born of an Ethiopian father, American mother. I think you left
You were born in Ethiopia and left when you were about seven, came to Michigan and, you know, now you're in the United States. What do you
remember of that? What stories were you told about that and the journey and how does that inform your work too?
MEHRETU: You know, when we -- I was born at the post-colonial moment, Hay Day of the African continent. It was 1970. And my family, my parents were
building their lives in (INAUDIBLE), was going through immense transformation at the time. There were a lot of student movement and tons
of social movement to democratize the government and move from the monarchy into a contemporary. There were different social political frameworks that
were presented and thought through.
And we were -- you know, we were raised in this very post-colonial modern moment (INAUDIBLE) very optimistic Ethiopian moment. And that revolution,
although it had many different directions in it, that revolution was ultimately carved in and if you're going to be in a casualty of the Cold
War, we had a socialist communist authoritarian leader, Mengistu, who took over the country and it became really uninhabitable for anyone who was part
of the Intelligentsia or part of the academic community, and my family left at that time and left our house and everything behind.
We had a full extended family that we were -- that I remember very dearly, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents that we were with all the time. And
so, when we came to Michigan and when we -- and our whole family transplanted and built -- started to build their lives in Michigan, we were
a very -- we just had each other, it was our nuclear family and my parents were very conscientious about the three of us and keeping us connected into
an Ethiopian community but also, really, what was possible and what we could become here, and that was this moment of this loss of innocence, if
you will, and that was a time where really trying to understand who you are in very different environment.
I mean, I don't think it could be more different than the center of the Midwest, the center of Michigan to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. But what was
amazing is the kind of international community that existed at the university and the same type of post-civil rights utopian desire that was
taking place in the '70s, in the mid '70s, that I grew up in.
And so, I think that that was what -- those are the desires and the language that formed me as a young person and that are still, I think,
fundamental to a lot of the questions I still ask in the work or -- and the kind of entropic cycles we keep finding ourselves in. And so, I grew up in
the United States but with a constant post national -- like cosmopolitan perspective on -- a sense of identity that goes way beyond any sense of a
nation state, and that -- what was possible in that space.
And so, I think like my interest was always in terms of how are we engaging in this bigger picture. And, you know, another really, I think, formative
aspect is that I grew up -- when I was in grad school, when I was really trying to understand my work as an artist, this was a moment of incredible
American international optimism. It was the beginning of the internet. It was the mid to late '90s and it was the -- and this was right before 9/11
when everything shifted. And I think that that painting that you brought up, dispersion really deals with that moment. It was a kind of failure of
that moment and what -- and how quickly things shifted and -- post that moment, post 9/11.
AMANPOUR: And now, a much later a work of yours which was done between 2019 and 2021 is called "Ghosthymn, After the Raft." And it is -- I think
it's the very last picture, last work in the exhibition and it faces windows which face onto the Hudson River and you can see the Statue of
Liberty from there. And you can clearly see that this is about, you know, the other, it's about migration, it's about immigrants.
What are you saying and what's happening on all those layers are of color on top?
MEHRETU: Well, for me, I think what's -- I don't know the painting is saying something specifically. It's -- I think I'm more interested in the
visceral haptic experience one has in between that space, in between the river and in between the painting, and in the act of looking at the
painting and standing in the museum when you look at that river and you see the Hudson from any vantage point in this city, it is the reason the city
exists. It's the reason that the city has become what it has become. And you can't stop.
I mean, the Statue of Liberty is the greatest mythology of this -- and symbol of this city and of this country in a sense. And you can't -- one
can't help but feel the contradictions inherent in our moment in the kind of immense anti-immigration stature that this -- that so many in this
country -- especially the previous president. And as you just mentioned, this current president hasn't really shifted that in a great way. And we
need to see -- and Europe has also been a very -- you know, I've been thinking about it, and the images in this painting really think about -- or
use the different and anti-immigration rallies in Europe that there are -- we're really in post and from this very kind of nationalist far right
perspective on who migrants and what -- and who has a right to be in Europe.
And those questions -- to me, "The Raft of the Medusa" was the reversal of that. That was the effort -- that was a painting based by -- I'm sorry --
MEHRETU: Gericault. Thank you. Gericault's painting, "The Raft of the Medusa," was based off of this true story that took place when European
colonizers were trying to get to the colonies. There was this massive effort and there were all of these different ways the people were going.
They were destitute of Europe and they were traveling on the -- in all the different kinds of ways to get to the colonies for a different kind of
life, to risk that kind of passage essentially and water where there -- where they basically were devouring themselves up to survive on this boat.
And he was so moved by that to create this immense masterpiece at a very, very young age. And to me, that that kind of -- the amazing -- when we look
at news media now and report such as you do and many others, you see needs the same kind of corpses on these boats, you've seen these images that feel
like they have lifted right out of this painting.
MEHRETU: And to me, there was something about that and the contradiction and the kind of immense nationalist fervor that you feel with the -- you
know, in the U.K. with the Brexit movement, you see this in Germany with anti-immigration movement against Merkel, you see that here the United
States in what Trump championed.
So, for me, that -- there was this -- this was the atmosphere I was working on this painting in, as well as the pandemic. And this sighting of the
river and all of these sources are part of that painting.
AMANPOUR: Yes. It's visceral. It's really dramatic to see that painting and look out and see what the painting is facing, and here you describe it.
It's an incredible exhibition and congratulations.
Julie Mehretu, thank you for being with us.
MEHRETU: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Now, as President Biden tries to take the global lead on combating climate change, he's also focused on the local level, pledging to
invest in minority communities who too often bear the brunt of environmental degradation.
Vivek Maru is founder of the Namati which empowers grassroots groups to protect common lands and enforce environmental laws. And Rhonda Hamilton
works with Namati to combat unlawful pollution in her own D.C. neighborhood. And here they are in conversation with Hari Sreenivasan.
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks. Vivek Maru, Rhonda Hamilton, thanks for joining us.
But, Vic, I want to start with you. So, what does environmental justice look like on a local level like what Rhonda is doing or a global level like
the places that Namati works?
VIVEK MARU, FOUNDER AND CEO, NAMATI: Environmental justice, it's simple, it means you shouldn't have to choose between having a job and being
poisoned. Environmental justice means democratizing decision making so that ordinary people can make a decision about whether a facility is going to be
built in their neighborhood or not, what the terms are going to be if it is going to get built and how those terms are going to be enforced.
And if I just zoom a little bit and I think this applies both at home in abroad, environmental justice means recognizing our fundamental
interdependence and building relationships that are respectful and harmonious with the natural world and with each other.
SREENIVASAN: Rhonda, for people who are not familiar with the section of D.C. that you live in, tell us a little bit about the challenges that
you're facing, what your community is living through and just give us -- paint us a picture, if you will, if I looked out your window and walk down
your block, what am I likely to see around where people live?
RHONDA HAMILTON, LEGAL EMPOWERMENT ADVOCATE, NAMATI: Our community (INAUDIBLE) shadow of the nation's capital to, where the homes of old D.C.
or not (INAUDIBLE) as well as national ball park. We live right beside an industrial ground field area that is referred to as the (INAUDIBLE) point.
That area right not is in the process of going through a major redevelopment process.
There are two active cement projects, two active cement industries with (INAUDIBLE) facility that release toxic dust to our community. There are
two Pepco (ph) substations that release radiation around the clock. In addition to that, the District of Columbia is reconstructing the Frederick
Douglass Memorial Bridge and that project is going -- is being developed and on the side of this point, it's releasing so many toxic chemicals to
our community and both stadiums were constructed over ground field sites. So, every day, we're exposed to contaminated air with particulate matter,
all you see if dust, debris and you breathe in constant diesel fumes on so many cement trucks going in and out of these facilities.
SREENIVASAN: So, Rhonda, give me an idea for someone watching who doesn't know your community, what are the health consequences of these
environmental conditions that you're describing here, either for yourself, for your family or your neighbors, what do you notice in your neighborhood
that isn't the same when you go to fancier part of D.C.?
HAMILTON: We have higher rates of respiratory ailments as asthma. Often times, if you don't have respiratory issues, you will notice very quickly
several months after you lived here, you might develop severe allergies or respiratory conditions. We've lost so many neighbors to cancer, heart
disease. It's just been very difficult on the community, and people that were fairly young isn't -- they were in their 40s and 50s.
I'll never forget my neighbor, he went to the doctor and found out he had stage 4 cancer. And I remember he had a dog, a very nice dog. He would go
down to (INAUDIBLE) three and four times a day. Let the dog run around. He said it would give him room to play and enjoy himself. And he got sick and
he died from cancer. And I feel like that area with all of its toxins, these are chemicals that are being unearthed. Once they enter your body,
they damage your respiratory systems and your vital organs. These are chemicals that 5, 10, 15 years down the line, you -- my community will
continue to be impacted and we will continue to lose people to these diseases because we're all breathing in this contaminated dust and air with
high raise (ph) of particular matter from these facilities.
SREENIVASAN: Vivek, if you could draw kind of a dotted line or a dash line or a solid line between environmental injustice and discrimination of other
source or structural racism as it might exist.
MARU: Yes. Absolutely. This is a global phenomenon. People who have less wealth, less power, people who face discrimination are more likely to be
dump on without their consent. They are more likely to be experiencing the brunt, as Rhonda said, of environmental harms.
My whole family, Hari, comes from Kutch, which is a district on the western coast of India. And in the last 30 years, the fact that Kutch is poor, the
fact that it is remote, those things have been used as an excuse to turn it into a sacrifice zone. Today, two of the biggest coal plants on the planet,
4,500 megawatts each are across the street from each other in a little town in Southern Kutch. And those two coal plants are surrounded by an
industrial zone with over 100 factories, many of which are flagrantly violating environmental regulation.
There are parts in Kutch, Hari, where there's almost no water left in the ground, where it hurts to breathe. And if I come to Sierra Leone, another
example in West Africa, we work with communities there who woke up one morning to find that all the land they'd ever known was signed away to an
oil pump plantation, over 100,000 acres of forest land without their consent.
And then just bringing back to United States, African-Americans in the United States are 75 percent more likely than the general population to
live next door to a facility that uses hazardous chemicals. Black people experienced one and a half times the burden of particulate matter pollution
compared to the general population. And it's disparities like those that are part of why black people, brown people, indigenous people are dying
disproportionately from the from the coronavirus.
So, indeed, the way the environmental harm is distributed in the world, it's tightly connected to these other underlying inequalities.
SREENIVASAN: Rhonda, Vivek just mentioned this idea of sacrificed people. You feel like Buzzard Point is the payment for what the rest of D.C. gets
HAMILTON: I feel like Buzzard Point is one of most of the (INAUDIBLE) in the city that are absolving the impact of these environmental homes from
toxic chemicals that have been purposely placed out in times, it's been generations before our -- us even coming into the community. I feel like
it's a consequence for the redevelopment, for meeting facilities, to build buildings for not being willing to clean up sites like Buzzard Point 100
percent before you redevelop.
The coexist toxic industrial facilities and built residence across the street from them. They're just equally as impacted as we have been for so
many generations. All of us are grown up and have grown up being exposed to these toxic chemicals. So, I feel like it's definitely a direct consequence
of this rush for redevelopment and this rush to build an increased population but without looking very deeply at these -- what's rooted in
these environmental injustices and correcting them before we move forward to continue to add onto these areas like Buzzard Point and a number of
other areas in the city.
SREENIVASAN: So, Rhonda, tell me what were you able to do? Where do you start? Taking on a situation like this, who do you start to approach? Do
you go to the companies first? Do you go to your local government first? How do you find the data if you think someone is a bad actor?
HAMILTON: Well, as we initially (INAUDIBLE) leaders to tell our stories and to let them know how we have been negatively impacted by these
environmental hazards, we began telling our story, the Buzzard Point story, to so many people and different organizations trying to get help. Because
oftentimes communities like mine, we are very limited with resources because in addition to that, oftentimes we do not have the computer access.
That's why efforts such as working with Namati has been so important because they meet the community to where they are. They come into our --
the heart of our community and help us. So, through our advocacy and by reaching out to get help, that's how we've been able to obtain support
throughout this process.
SREENIVASAN: Vivek, as have this conversation, there is a lot of focus on literally the 40,000-foot, 50,000-foot, the greenhouse gas emissions.
Vivek, kind of take that -- bring that back down to earth for us. What are the costs on the ground to the communities who actually feel a
disproportionate impact of this climate emergency on their lives?
MARU: Absolutely. Yes. It can seem abstract to people, I think. But if you are living on the front lines of this destruction, it is not abstract at
all. It's people like those indigenous leaders in Amazon who are living -- who are losing the forest that they depend, it's people like Rhonda and her
community that are breathing air that is making them sick. And that's on the things that are creating the climate crisis, those things are polluting
people right where they are, whether it's coal plants or deforestation, oil pump plantations, new fossil fuel infrastructure, they are hurting people's
water, air, land in the present day. And so, the struggles against those things are crucial.
And then if you take the other side of the equation, which is the changes that are happening to the climate, those are those are hurting, oftentimes,
the very same people in very material and concrete ways. It's not abstract at all. I mentioned the indigenous communities who are -- who steward those
grazing lands in Kenya, those are some of the lands most affected by climate change in the whole world. The drought patterns are changing, the
amount of water in the ground is changing.
And so, it's crucial that they have greater power in order to build that resilience so that we can adapt and move forward.
[14:50:00] SREENIVASAN: Rhonda, what kind of resistance have you faced when trying to get justice for your community?
HAMILTON: We face such tremendous amount of resistance. Initially, we thought that this would be easy and a no-brainer situation and people would
see the harm that we're going through and say, we're working on it, it would just be automatically corrected. We're going fix these problems.
We're going to remove these facilities. We're going to close them down. We're going to make sure that you all live in quality environment. That has
not been the case.
Our interest in our health (INAUDIBLE) to take a backseat to the redevelopment of this area. We are up against multimillion dollar projects.
Oftentimes, these specific facilities have the upper hand and that their rights are the priority and not ours. It's as if our lands are being
sacrificed to redevelop this area by any means necessary.
SREENIVASAN: Vivek, what are some of the personal harms and risks that advocates are taking upon themselves around the world that you're working
with right now? I know, as we're talking, there's a new international agreement going into effect that's been signed by lots of South American,
Central American and Caribbean countries. Tell us a little bit about that and why that's important as well.
MARU: Yes. This is a shameful fact, Hari, about the century that we live in, which is that standing up for the planet can get you killed. In the
Peruvian Amazon, in just a three-week period at the end of February and early March, three indigenous leaders who were involved in resisting
unlawful deforestation in Amazon were murdered, Herasmo Grau, Yenes Bonsano, Estela Mauricio.
And when these people stand up to protect themselves, they are protecting all of us. And yet, instead of offering them protection, we are allowing
them to be killed. And it's not just the three of them, Global Witness documents publicly reported killings of environment defenders every year.
The last data they have out was to from 2019, over 220 killings, and that was the highest since they began tracking about 10 years earlier.
And so, we ought to be affording these folks the kinds of protections that we give, say, witnesses in criminal cases or corporate whistleblowers. In
this Escazu Agreement that you've mentioned is crucial because it's the first agreement to actually insist that member nations create protections
for environmental defenders. And more broadly, it aims to democratize environmental governance, to give people who depend on lands more of a say
in what happens to those lands, whether or not something should get built in their neighborhood. If so, on what terms and how those terms are going
to be enforced.
And I would say, you know, President Biden, to his credit, he has prioritized environmental justice at home. But global environmental policy
continues to be largely technocratic and top down focused on emissions reductions, investments in technology, which are essential things. We need
those urgently. But by themselves, they are insufficient.
And so, I think one of the opportunities that the Biden administration has is to bring that attention to environmental justice that his applied at
home to its approach to global environmental policy. I would suggest that we negotiate towards a global version of the Escazu Agreement, a kind of
part 2 of the Paris Agreement because we are ultimately not going to find our way out of this grave environmental crisis unless we grapple with the
underlying inequalities that have made the destruction possible.
SREENIVASAN: What are steps of the Biden administration can be taking in terms of existing policy priorities or proposals that they're already
pushing which could also help alleviate some of the environmental injustices that you're talking about?
MARU: Yes. I do think that the Biden administration deserves credit for taking environmental justice more seriously than any other administration
in U.S. history. In fact, one of the things that they've done that's really important is that they've reached out to people who are most affected,
Rhonda is among those who've been part of conversations about what a way forward looks like. And specifically, this Infrastructure Bill that is
being debated in Congress right now, it has a really important principle in it which is Justice 40, meaning that 40 percent of the investments will go
to communities that have been historically disadvantaged.
So, I think that's going to be a crucial step. I think we need to do much more than that. And there's something called the THRIVE Act, which is going
to be introduced in Congress soon which is bigger and bolder and gets closer to what I think the science and the inequality crisis both require
SREENIVASAN: Rhonda, what have you been able to accomplish so far in your community and beyond that, what does environmental justice look like to you
for the people you live with?
HAMILTON: So far, we've been able to accomplish, we have air quality monitor that's been put up, it's been about three years at (INAUDIBLE)
Correct Center. It gives our air policy readings. So, we know the quality of the air that we're breathing. In additional to that, there was a fence
installed around the South Capitol Street Bridge project. It was a clean field site. There were mounds of dust that was being stored. We were very
concerned about our children falling into one of their mounds. We were able to reach out to the bridge teams to do a walk through with them, their
resources and a fence being put over around that site to protect the community.
These might sound like small victories, but to us, it means a great deal. This has really reached -- it's been just a tremendous experience to be
able to receive the help and support, to help my community. At one point, it was like we had lost hope. It has been an uphill battle. But these small
victories give us hope and help us to know that someone is listening and someone cares and they're being responsive to some of the concerns.
SREENIVASAN: Vivek Maru, Rhonda Hamilton, thank you both.
MARU: Thank you, Hari. Great to be here.
AMANPOUR: And that is it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media. Thank you for watching and good-bye from