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Interview with Brennan Center for Justice Senior Fellow Theodore R. Johnson; Interview with Hiker Jackson Parell; Interview with Hiker Sammy Potter. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired December 23, 2021 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: It appears that, in the context of South Africa, there is a decrease in the severity
compared to Delta.
GOLODRYGA (voice-over): New studies are providing some hope for the battle against COVID. We get the facts with Drew Weissman, one of the scientists
who developed mRNA vaccine technology, and Ran Balicer, who is advising the Israeli government on COVID.
NELSON CHAMISA, FORMER MINISTER OF INFORMATION COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY OF ZIMBABWE: I have seen your passion. That passion touches me. That passion
energizes me when I feel I can't go on.
GOLODRYGA: On the campaign trail in Zimbabwe. I'm joined by actress- turned-producer Thandiwe Newton on her new documentary, "President."
THEODORE R. JOHNSON, BRENNAN CENTER FOR JUSTICE: 2021 may just be the tip of a new iceberg to disenfranchise eligible citizens from participating in
What does 2022 to hold in store for America's fight for equality? Hari Sreenivasan asks Ted Johnson, author of "When the Stars Begin to Fall."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome, bro.
GOLODRYGA: The 21-year-olds who used the pandemic to trek 7,000 miles across America. We will find out why on earth they did it.
GOLODRYGA: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga in New York, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.
Signs of hope in the fight against Omicron, despite surging numbers of cases. Scientists conducting two new studies have found that Omicron
infections more often result in milder illness as compared to the Delta variant. And, today, the FDA approved yet another antiviral pill, this time
Merck's, to treat high risk COVID-19 patients at the onset of the disease.
Still, the sheer number of cases could overwhelm hospitals and test our frustratingly difficult to get. President Biden responded to criticism
about the White House's handling of Omicron. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: How did you get it wrong?
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How did we get it wrong? Nobody saw it coming. Nobody in the whole world. Who saw it coming?
QUESTION: Did the administration not expect that there could be moments like this one, where you would have a highly transmissible variant that's
possible around the corner?
BIDEN: Sure, it was possible. And it possible there could be other variants that come along.
You plan for what you think is available that is the most likely threat that exists at the time, and you respond to it. And I think that that's
exactly what we have done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: The president reiterated the most important way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated, something former President Trump also
publicly said on Wednesday.
Indeed, the world would look a lot different today had it not been for vaccines, which avoided countless more deaths and hospitalizations. So it's
no wonder that the scientists who helped create them are now being hailed as heroes.
One is Dr. Drew Weissman, whose work on mRNA set the stage for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Also joining us is Ran Balicer, a COVID adviser to
Israel, which is set to give a fourth shot to health care workers and those over 60.
Doctors, welcome, both of you.
Dr. Balicer, let me begin with you on what we can only interpret as hopeful good news. And that is the results of these two preliminary studies out of
South Africa and the U.K. that show that the cases appear to be milder than Delta.
What else do you extrapolate from these studies?
RAN BALICER, CHAIR, ISRAELI COVID-19 NATIONAL EXPERTS PANEL: I think that these are truly hope-inspiring outcomes that show that the severity of
illness that is caused by the Omicron variant is not as high as it was for Delta.
However, we have to take into account that, when we multiply the increased infection rates and the higher susceptibility of vaccinated individuals for
infection, which is higher for Omicron, with the reduced average severity, we still might witness serious surges of severe illness and surges in
hospitals and in health systems around the world as a result of this -- of the new variant, despite the fact that it is on the individual level less
severe on average than we saw before.
GOLODRYGA: And, Dr. Weissman, that's exactly what public health officials around the world, including the United States, are warning as well, that
though it may be a milder variant, given how transmissible it is, just the sheer number of people who get sick and then those who could end up in the
hospital is what's concerning them about overloading the health care system again.
But that brings me to the question about vaccines in general, because we know that Omicron appears to be evading those vaccines that are not based
on mRNA. That is Pfizer and Moderna. There are millions, if not billions, of other doses given around the world, whether it's AstraZeneca or Chinese
or Russian vaccines, that continue to appear to evade Omicron.
So, for those people who are viewing this as sort of an endemic around the corner, is it too soon to say that?
DR. DREW WEISSMAN, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Well, I think we need more data.
So it appears that the other vaccines and mRNA with only two doses will allow mild disease with Omicron. What we don't know yet, but what we
suspect, is that all vaccines will prevent serious infection and death.
But that's a guess right now. We have to see how that plays out.
GOLODRYGA: And, Dr. Weissman, how big of a game-changer is not now one, but two antiviral pills that have been approved for emergency use by the
We keep hearing from elected officials and health officials that, even though we're seeing a surge in cases, you can't compare where we are now
where we were to last year or in 2021. One, reason, we have the vaccines, but also we have the these types of antivirals.
WEISSMAN: No, I mean, these antiviral pills are game-changers.
What they offer is an over-the-counter -- an outpatient treatment that is highly effective -- the Pfizer is 90 percent from the data I have seen --
at preventing serious illness. These can be used in people with breakthrough infections, most importantly, in people who don't respond well
to the vaccine, so people who have -- on cancer therapies or autoimmune immunosuppressive therapies or people who just don't make good antibody
These pills are game-changers.
GOLODRYGA: And that is so reassuring to hear.
Dr. Balicer, also a game-changer in this pandemic has been countries like Israel that have provided real-world case studies in what these vaccines
are able to provide for citizens. And Israel had been one of the first to roll out the first and then second dose of vaccines, obviously with Pfizer,
and then the booster, and now rolling out a fourth booster for those 60 and above and those who are immunocompromised and health workers as well.
What made this decision for the Israeli government so pertinent right now?
BALICER: I think that we are worried because, while there are many uncertainties that you have alluded to, some things have become clear in
the last few weeks.
Our data does suggest that there's a significant drop in the titers of antibodies three months and more after the third dose. In terms of Delta,
our data and both the Ministry of Health and the colleagues suggest that there's a significant waning of immunity against infection in real-life
And the recent data from the U.K. suggests there's also furthermore prominent waning of immunity for these symptomatic infections from Omicron
than from Delta. As time passes from the third dose, the protection against mild illness and infection is dropping significant.
We are worried that this type of infection, breakthrough infection, that will occur now more often in our most vulnerable population, the older and
the immunocompromised, will eventually manifest itself also in severe illness in rates that are still unknown.
So, at this point, when we are aware there's enough evidence to show that immunity against mild illness is dropping, there is reason to believe that
it will also be reduced, although not to the same level, but will be reduced also for severe illness.
And we have the means to protect those most vulnerable population with a fourth dose. So we have not yet -- the decision has not yet been finalized.
The director general of the Ministry of Health has not yet made the call to take the advice of the epidemic management team and begin this vaccination
But there's the green light from the professional teams that, in the weighing of the unknown and the uncertainties, it seems more prudent to
provide this protection to the people than not to do that.
GOLODRYGA: And, Dr. Weissman, for those in other countries, including the United States, who have seen Israel as sort of a bellwether of what's to
come here, anyone who's received their booster starting in September and six months in, are they now going to be thinking about perhaps getting a
fourth shot as well?
Do you see that unfolding in the U.S. too?
WEISSMAN: So, my guess is that it's probably going to occur.
We rely on the FDA to emergency-approve such treatments. We're now waiting for their input, along with all of the academic centers that are exploring
how well the durability lasts. My guess, based on the Israeli and the U.K. data, is that we will have a fourth booster six months or so after the
GOLODRYGA: Dr. Weissman, let me pick up on your work on mRNA and the research that not only it provided for covering COVID and providing
exemplary efficiency, but for where you see this technology headed in the future, as we are reading headlines today that we perhaps are not prepared
yet for the next pandemic, as we are still dealing with the current one.
I don't want to play a word game, with President Biden saying we weren't prepared for this, and now that the White House is saying, well, he didn't
-- he knew we were prepared for variants, he just wasn't prepared for this one.
I guess my question is, how do you prepare for variants that are unknown with this type of technology?
WEISSMAN: Well, there's two approaches.
There's the approach that Moderna and Pfizer are doing right now, which is, they're incorporating the sequence of the new variant into new vaccines. I
don't particularly like that approach, because you're constantly chasing variants. And by the time you make the new one, a new variant might be out.
So you're constantly a step behind.
What we started working in the spring of 2020 was a pan-coronavirus vaccine. This is a vaccine that will protect against any bat
betacoronavirus crossing over into humans. And our data so far shows it will protect against all of the current variants and likely any variant in
Now, we have done the same for influenza. We're working on universal influenza vaccines. So I think the way you prepare for future pandemics is
you make effective vaccines that will work against the primary drivers of pandemics in the future.
Right now, that's influenza and coronavirus.
GOLODRYGA: It's just incredible the work that you have been doing, you and your colleagues, and should be commended. It's just been a game-changer and
has saved countless upon millions of lives around the world.
Selfishly, I'm looking forward to some of your future work as well. I have read that you are trying to develop a nut allergy vaccine as well. My
daughter has a nut allergy. I would really like to see that develop some time soon.
Let me end with you, though, Dr. Balicer, because, as difficult as it may be to develop this type of incredible technology, did you ever think it
would be perhaps even more difficult to convince people to put these miracle savers into their arms?
BALICER: Oh, I know this has always been an issue, I think. Since vaccines have been first put into market many centuries ago, vaccine-opposing groups
have been always there.
I think that the vast majority of the public is interested in hearing the scientists and the physicians bring in the best evidence possible to show
them what is the -- what are the implications of the decisions and to guide them to the right decisions that will help them protect themselves against
risks as the ones we're facing right now.
And I think, as we see here in Israel -- take, for example, the booster dose; 80 percent of the eligible people have received their booster doses
within a matter of about a month here in Israel. And if you talk about those over the age of 60, it's above 90 percent.
So I think that there is significant noise coming from the groups that generally oppose vaccines as a helpful modality, but the vast majority of
the public votes with their legs and their arms and votes affirmatively for this important intervention in helping public health and saving lives.
GOLODRYGA: Yes, last night, I read, I believe, it's only 60 million Americans that have received their booster, though it does appear that the
booster rates are going up, given that people in the public are seeing how infectious Omicron really is and how transmissible it really is.
Let me ask you both before we leave here, what, if anything, are you changing in terms of how you celebrate the holidays? I know there are
certain travel restrictions in Israel. Many in the U.S. are concerned about travel as well.
Are you changing anything over the past few weeks that you had previously planned?
Let me start with you, Dr. Balicer.
BALICER: So, yes, I had several trips abroad planned. And Israel has basically banned travel to many countries and tourist arrival here.
This helped us to postpone the introduction of Omicron by weeks, weeks, which has allowed us a lot of time to plan ahead and to continue
vaccinating. So I will celebrate these holidays here in the country with my family. And I would also say that the use of rapid tests have become more
prevalent for all of us when we want to have a safe environment as we celebrate within our friends and family, especially those in the vulnerable
GOLODRYGA: It's the gift of 2021, right. If you can get a rapid test at home, that is a wonderful thing right now.
Dr. Weissman, how about you?
WEISSMAN: So, our plans are always to celebrate the holiday with family. And we're still going to do that.
GOLODRYGA: Family that's vaccinated and boosted, right? And I would imagine that you are also doing rapid tests as well just in case to be
WEISSMAN: Yes, everybody has been boosted. We all did a rapid test before getting together. And we're not -- we're not interacting with anybody else.
GOLODRYGA: Yes, really, really great advice there.
Dr. Weissman, thank you again for your enormous contribution to mankind. I'm not overstating that.
Dr. Balicer, thank you as well for all the work that you are doing to provide advice there for the government. Obviously, we have been following
that data very closely.
Happy holidays to you both. Be well, be safe, be happy.
WEISSMAN: Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: Well, now we turn to Zimbabwe, and its precarious struggle for democracy.
For decades, the country has been ruled by the ZANU-PF Party, first under the dictator Robert Mugabe, and now Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former vice
president. When Mugabe lost power in 2017, there was hope for a new Zimbabwe, but it's fading fast.
It's all under a magnifying glass in the new documentary "President," which follows opposition leader Nelson Chamisa and his 2018 campaign.
Earlier, I spoke with one of the film's producers, Thandiwe Newton, a British actress with Zimbabwean heritage. She told me why she was drawn to
GOLODRYGA: Well, Thandiwe, thank you so much for joining us.
This is really a riveting film and documentary. Why was this project so important for you? And how did you become involved?
THANDIWE NEWTON, ACTOR AND PRODUCER: I was working over a year ago in London a movie for Amazon called "All the Old Knives."
And the director, Janus Metz, a Danish filmmaker, we were chatting about Zimbabwe, which I do very often to everyone I meet. And he mentioned his
story of Zimbabwe. When he was 15 years old, he spent several months there and made a very close friend with a young African Zimbabwean boy. And he
was very proud of that.
And I felt really also very grateful to him for being such a fan of Zimbabwe and seemingly to understand the culture. And he told me about his
friend, his journalism buddy, Camilla Nielsson, who's a documentary filmmaker, and I remembered the name because I'd seen "Democrats" a number
of years ago.
And Janus Metz, the director I was referring to, was friends with Camilla. And so on the set of "All the Old Knives," we FaceTimed Camilla, and I told
her, thank you so much for "Democrats." And she said, well there's this other documentary. It's just been to Sundance. And I said, I'd love to see
it. It's about Zimbabwe.
And I watched the documentary. And I said, what can I do? And she said, be a part of it.
GOLODRYGA: Well, what makes this work and what makes it so compelling, unlike other documentaries, I would say, is that it is purely done
objectively, right, that there's no politics involved from the filmmakers' perspective.
GOLODRYGA: You have a firsthand view as...
NEWTON: My goodness, no.
GOLODRYGA: Yes, as a viewer of what transpired surrounding the ouster of Mugabe...
GOLODRYGA: ... right, in 2017, leading up to the elections of 2018.
And here you have his vice president running as well, Mnangagwa. And here you have Nelson Chamisa, who we're introduced to early on in the film, as
running against him, right? And he, at the time, was a 40-year-old very charismatic lawyer who spoke to the people and constituents there in ways
that addressed their enthusiasm and their excitement to speak out.
I want to show our viewers a clip of Nelson speaking...
GOLODRYGA: ... to a group of voters just to give a sense of what he conveyed to them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHAMISA: That passion touches me. That passion energizes me when I feel I can't go on.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
CHAMISA: Because I know, in all we are doing, we are together in this thing. What worries is the morning after. That's what worries me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Tell us about Nelson and what you hope this documentary will convey to viewers about him.
NEWTON: Nelson Chamisa is a man who has been accelerated to this position. He's young to be a leader. I think it's a puppy biting at the heels of the
old experienced dog, you know?
And I have recently discovered that Mnangagwa is keen to make -- to raise the age of presidency to 50, which means that, in the next election, Nelson
Chamisa wouldn't even be able to run, which seems crazy, when he's already shown himself to be such an enthusiastic and passionate leader.
And here's my question. I think that, in a democracy, we need two sides. That's what a democracy is. So I think it's exciting for Mnangagwa to have
Chamisa as an opposition, so that it shows how strong and extraordinary Mnangagwa is. You need the opposition.
And in the same way, you need Chamisa to appreciate Mnangagwa's power and the fact that he's had decades and decades with Mugabe. So these two should
come together in the spirit of democracy and be equals fight -- fighting, I say, but it's really challenging one another so that the people of Zimbabwe
can make their decision.
But what the documentary shows is that there is a gross imbalance, and that it is not fair. It is not equal, and that possibly there has been some
corruption at the ballot. And that's what the documentary shows. And I would think that the leader of Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa, would be concerned
about that. I'm sure he is.
And so, the next election, we have to make sure that what Camilla Nielsson saw in front of her on camera isn't the case. This documentary is
incredibly important for the future of democracy in Zimbabwe, Africa and the rest of the world. And this is why this documentary globally is so
There aren't very many places around the world where we can see how democracy is working. It's very difficult to actually see. But if you look
at Zimbabwe, and what they're currently struggling with, it's a microcosm of what we see around the world everywhere.
GOLODRYGA: This is focused on Zimbabwe, but it really could speak for any country around the world.
NEWTON: Any country.
GOLODRYGA: And Mnangagwa spoke to the world, right, by going to Davos and the World Economic Forum leading up to the election, saying it's all about
transparency, it's all about democracy.
GOLODRYGA: Please, send election observers to come watch.
GOLODRYGA: And yet that's the opposite of what happened.
NEWTON: Good. Indeed.
GOLODRYGA: And what stood out to me is that the institutions were in place, right? Election observers were there. There was the...
GOLODRYGA: ... Zimbabwean Electoral Committee.
NEWTON: Oh, goodness yes. And the international community was present.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. And the Supreme Court was there. The constitution is there.
But it all seemed to be rigged at the end. And that that leads us...
NEWTON: Well, that's interesting you say that, because you watched it. So that's what you thought.
And I think other people will watch it and maybe think differently, but at least we have something to watch.
GOLODRYGA: It was interesting to hear Nelson Chamisa when in the documentary you hear Mugabe say that he in effect will support the young
man, being Nelson.
GOLODRYGA: And Nelson's response was, when your enemy hugs and kisses you, you better be sure that kiss isn't a poisoned one.
So he understood the ramifications of that as well. How would you think or how would you want viewers to walk away from this documentary? Obviously,
it is done from an objective lens. People have their own takeaways, but, from your perspective, is it one of hope, or is it one of despair?
NEWTON: It's both, my love. And that's where we are in the world.
I feel that I have been talking about breaking the system all my adult life. And I realize that, actually, the system in place can work. It can
work. What is causing us problems as a humanity is that people are cheating the system. They are cheating the system. And it causes those that already
suffer to suffer more.
That is my takeaway.
GOLODRYGA: You get a sense of how many brave people and unnamed brave people there are, not only in Zimbabwe, but, as we said, this film speaks
to larger issues around the world.
NEWTON: All over the world, activists, journalists.
GOLODRYGA: But journalists and those people who worked at polling stations that would not succumb to corruption, right, and the violence that was
bestowed on them after the fact. They endured.
NEWTON: Oh, yes.
GOLODRYGA: But looking forward to your life, to your career, I want to move to talk about what you have endured and what you have spoken out
about, you, as a biracial actress, I mean, the amount of injustice that is still being the pervasive throughout some of the industry that you have
GOLODRYGA: I mean, do you find that in terms of racism and sexism in the industry as a whole, are we moving in the right direction, or is it just as
NEWTON: You know what I have realized?
Underneath racism, underneath sexism, it's all about power. It's not just men hurting women. It's women hurting women, women hurting men. It's about
power. It's about dominance. And it's about terror. If a person has true power, they don't need to dominate people. And power needs to be shared.
My work, I feel like I just don't even think it's about sexism and racism. I have seen Americans -- not all Americans, obviously, but I have seen a
lot of Americans try to get rid of Critical Race Theory, which is so absurd, because Critical Race Theory already exists. They were just shining
a light on progress. That's all they're doing. They're shining a light on progress.
Every movie, every documentary, every clever book nowadays is through a Critical Race Theory lens. It's just reexamining history. That's all it is.
Why is it so threatening? Well, it's threatening if you want to keep things the way they are, which is people cheating the system.
I think we do have to put our faith in the powers that be, but we just have to know that the powers that be want the right things for us, which is why
"President" is such an important documentary.
And does that make you optimistic about the world that your children are growing up and have grown up in and your daughter in particular, who is
also pursuing a career in acting?
NEWTON: Yes, she is.
Nico is an actress. My daughter Ripley, who is 21, is about to start her first series, which she wrote for Netflix. Am I hopeful? Well, what I have
realized over lockdown, I have been thinking about the meaning of life. And I have come to realize for myself that really the only point to life is
And I really mean to feel this life, to feel my environment, my sky, my earth, people. And that's all there is. And so if we're going to live this
life, humanity, people, and we don't have that much time left, we have some generations left, but we all know where we're going. Look at the moon. It's
a bit of charcoal, isn't it? So that's what our planet will very well look like.
So if this is all we have got, let's live.
GOLODRYGA: Such profound words, and what a way to end this important conversation.
Thandiwe, I know you say that this film speaks to viewers not just in Zimbabwe and those that live there, but those around the world. But I know
that this is very important for you, and your family that's still there. It's a big part of you.
And, clearly, this is a powerful, powerful documentary that everyone should see and take hold of in the sense of fighting for democracy.
Thank you so much.
GOLODRYGA: Well, now, it's not just Zimbabwe that democracy is under threat in.
With less than a year before the 2022 midterms, here in the United States, President Joe Biden says that he suspects support suspending the filibuster
to protect voting rights. This comes after a push by Republicans for an array of new proposals that critics say will disproportionately impact
voters of color.
Ted Johnson is a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. His latest book is "When the Stars Begin to Fall."
And he joined Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the existential threat racism poses to America and democracy.
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Bianna, thanks,
Ted Johnson, thanks again for joining us.
Let's talk first about voting rights right now. According to a voting rights roundup of 2021 released recently by the Brennan Center for Justice,
between January 1 and December 7, at least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting. More than 440 bills with provisions that
restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states in 2021 legislative sessions.
State legislatures enacted far more restrictive voting laws in 2021 than in any year since the Brennan Center began tracking voting legislation in
How concerned are you about this?
JOHNSON: Extremely, very concerned.
Look, some of these laws are about reducing access to mail-in balloting. Some of these laws close the window for early voting. Some of these laws
make more stricter voter identification requirements about which ones can be used and which are not permitted.
And so, these are laws, measures, crafted to shape the electorates such that those -- the party that holds power in these states, and most of them
are Republican Party, folks hold onto that power even if they don't win the majority of the public vote. So, these are measures meant to complicate
access to our democracy in order to wait the advantage, the electoral advantage for one party over another, which is, in my view, inherently
undemocratic by complicating people's access to the polls just so that you can win elections.
This is why the Freedom to Vote Act is so necessary because it standardizes a number of these issues that it would then make these state laws invalid
or at least open to challenge. So, let's take voter identification for example. Voter identification in and of itself is not inherently racist.
The kind of voter identification that is allowed, however, can shape the electorate such that people of color have a more difficult time voting than
For example, in Texas, the -- if you have a gun license, that is an acceptable kind of voter I.D. But your student I.D. at the University of
Texas system, which is a government entity is not. 80 percent of the people in Texas with gun licenses are white. More than half of the people with a
University of Texas student I.D. as their primary form of identification are young people of color.
So, even if it you don't mean to be racist in choosing which I.D.s are acceptable, the outcome of that is that you make it easier for one group of
people to vote and make it more difficult for another. So, these laws are very troubling. I mean, things like passing out water to waiting people
waiting in line in a mini black community, people were waiting eight, 10 hours online, that's outlawed in Georgia.
There are states that are considering laws that would give the state assembly the power to overturn the popular vote in that state in a
presidential election and send their electors to whoever the state assembly decides they want to win. That is both undemocratic and it is, in my view,
So, these laws are extremely troubling and the idea that 2022 may hold more in store that 2021 may just be the tip of a new iceberg to disenfranchise
eligible citizens from participating in elections is, you know -- this is the issue of the next year and certainly, probably the one that's most
central to ensuring we can secure our democracy for the next generation.
SREENIVASAN: Right now, people are also wondering, I don't know if it's necessarily democracy fatigue. But that optimism is waning when they see,
for example, Joe Manchin, a senator from a very small state, elected by about 290,000 people who has equal if not greater power than Joe Biden who
was elected by 81 million people.
And ultimately, what we're talking about is policy that affects 300 million people, right? So, this notion of one person one vote are some votes
perhaps more important than others? Those kinds of questions creep into people's minds. And why does it matter if I have the right to vote in this
state, this all seems beyond my control and the system is going to do what the system is going to do?
JOHNSON: Yes. So, you're right. I mean, there is a study done a couple of years ago by the Knight Foundation that surveyed the 100 mill Americans
that do not vote. And among the top reasons were they had no faith in the people running, had no faith in the process or institutions or don't feel
like their voice, their vote made any difference at all.
But I would say, tell that to the million casualties in the civil war, the enslaved black folks who ran away from plantations to fight for the right
to vote. And then, within a decade after the 15th Amendment was passed, many of them were stripped of that right. Tell that to the women
suffragists who fought for the right to vote for decades and only got that right 100 years ago, 140 years after the nation was founded. Tell that to
the civil rights movement activists there, the scores of immigrants and native Americans who have demanded access to democracy.
So, I know it feels a little theoretical, abstract, maybe a little like quicksilver to feel like we have the power to make changes in our
government. But I would say two things to this. One is in the second paragraph of the Declaration it says that we should have a government that
derives its just power from the consent of the governed. We are the governed, and the way we give our consent, one of the primary ways we give
our consent is through participation and democracy and by voting.
The second thing I would say here though is if you exit the voting process, if the average person walks away from democracy and suggests that it isn't
working for them and they don't want to participate, then the product they will be delivered is not a better democracy, it won't even be a status quo
democracy. In fact, it won't be a democracy at all.
And so, our form of government, our way of life, our national identity is contingent on people participating in the democratic process. And
government, whether at the local, state or federal level should not hamper that process.
SREENIVASAN: You know, I should (INAUDIBLE) myself and that there has also been a tremendous amount of excitement and energy from the conservative
base for getting involved in local elections, not just running for it, but also wanting to be part of local elections board or electors. And do you
see -- are you concerned about that?
JOHNSON: So, I'm not concerned about Republicans participating in local government. I am concerned about people who don't believe in rule of law,
who don't believe in the constitution, who don't believe in election integrity, running for these election offices in hopes that they can
subvert the outcome of elections if they don't get the results that they want.
And, in fact, the Britain Center (ph) has researched this very issue, looking at the kind of laws that different state assemblies are passing and
they were passing laws intended to subvert the expressed will of the public via election outcomes, via the number of ballots casts. I am worried that
there are more of those folks, especially after January 6th, that are now basically storming the election process in every state in hopes that when
someone, a losing candidate, contests the results that they will have essentially agents of sorts seeded in the process to undermine the will of
the public and frankly, undermine our democracy.
SREENIVASAN: You know, it's been less than a year since January 6th. Yet, there are competing narratives about exactly what happened. We literally
have commissions in Congress who are subpoenaing and interviewing and deposing witnesses and are going to come out with the report. At the psalm
time, the very process of looking into it, how bad it was, whether or not these were, you know, rebels, protesters storming the capitol or whether
they were freedom fighters and whether they should be treated as martyrs, this is in the public square and it's not settled.
JOHNSON: That's right. And it should be. You know, on January 7th of this year, it was largely settled that what happened the day before was bad. And
that the people that had acted to storm the capitol, overtake capitol police officer to face the people's (INAUDIBLE), these were not people that
we should revere or aspire to be like.
And then, slowly but surely, after an initial set of condemnations, people started to say, we need to move on. And then, as more time went on and
those who committed a crime on January 6th and violated the capitol, as they were arrested, suddenly these are being called political prisoners.
And now, there's the sense that, as you mentioned, that it was kind of heroic what these folks did.
And I want to be like as clear as I can, especially as a military veteran, what happened on January 6th, there were no heroes involved in the folks
that stormed the capitol. There were no heroes involved in those who tried to overturn the election results of an election by all counts was decided
fairly and squarely.
And so, to sort of create a new lost cause narrative in the same way that folks have tried to reinvent the confederacy, the way folks tried redefine,
you know, what happened in Germany and the holocaust, we are seeing a little bit of that now where people are using a new narrative to redefine
the thing that we saw with our very eyes and too many folks are beginning to believe this new mythology that these were defenders of the realm, these
folks who stormed the capitol, only hoping to protect the constitution.
SREENIVASAN: One of the questions people have is also how the laws are applied and to whom are they applied equally? I mean, in the realm of
criminal justice reform, we have had several different high-profile cases, of course, from Derek Chauvin and George Floyd trial, to Ahmaud Arbery,
Kyle Rittenhouse and others. When you look at how these high-profile cases have impacted the country, what stands out to you?
JOHNSON: Yes. It's a mixed bag, to be honest with you. I will say that the summer after Floyd's murder, I found hope and optimism in that moment. For
every day, for weeks to an end across the country and every state in the union and then some, Americans were protesting for racial justice and
against the abuse of state power that was on display for the world to see in Floyd's murder.
But then we get an election result that's unfairly or unjustly, you know, inaccurately contested. January 6th, Ahmaud Arbery is killed and only --
you know, there was a sigh of relief when the vigilantes that killed him were convicted as well as Chauvin who murdered George Floyd was convicted.
But then, Kyle Rittenhouse in Wisconsin is acquitted. And I can tell you in black America, that felt very much like when George Zimmerman was
When you have a crime clearly committed on camera, for Rittenhouse anyway, and the killer gets to walk away free and then thinking a about if race had
played a role in this, if the man holding the gun or in Zimmerman's case, holding the brick was a black man and the victim was a white person, would
the outcome have been the same?
Because we have to ask these questions and because feel relief when justice is done after some of these tragic killings, that suggests to us that our
system is not operating the way it's supposed to, that racism still plays a role in who gets arrested, who gets convicted, who gets parole, how many
years one gets. And then, the recidivism rate and the opportunities available to folks to include voting once they leave.
So, I find lots of hope and optimism in organizations that are fighting to extend justice to folks, activists on the ground at the local level who are
doing the work to ensure justice and democracy are available to people. But I will say that I am very sober, again, about the lengths people to which
people will go to ensure either the status quo remains as is or that we take steps backward to protect certain interests.
SREENIVASAN: You know, briefly in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, gun ownership, gun control became part of the conversation. And then you can
point to any number, sadly, of mass shootings that have happened in the United States that catch our attention for a day or two where it surfaces
But what are you looking out at, say, whether it's the Supreme Court or whether it's legislation? Because we seem to understand that some portions
of it need to be altered and there seems bipartisan agreement on that, but we can't, as a country, seem to take that step.
JOHNSON: This is one of the big tragedies of -- political tragedies of our nation today. Though there was wide public support for these kinds of
measures, Congress has not been able to act or has been unwilling to act on it. Meanwhile, as you mentioned, mass shootings continue and cases like the
Rittenhouse case show the damage these kinds of things can do.
A couple points here, one is that after Floyd's murder, George Floyd's murder last year, there were -- and the defund the police movement began to
gain traction, there were a number of conservative legal scholars who began arguing for a more expansive conception of the Second Amendment. Because
the idea was that police may be abdicating their duty for fear of being called racist for just doing their job. And so, citizens needed to take up
their arms at even higher rates to ensure their own personal security.
If you remember, there was a couple in the news in Missouri during a Black Lives Matter march who came out to the edge of their property with guns
just in case any of those protesters decided to get out of line. This is not what a well-functioning democracy does. And a more expansive conception
of the Second Amendment facilitates these kinds of actions.
Secondly, there is a Supreme Court case, this term, looking at the Second Amendment, and it will be depending on its ruling it -- well, no matter the
ruling. It is the most consequential case on the Second Amendment since the Heller (ph) case, you know, some dozen years ago. And the argument it's New
York State Pistol and Rifle Association, I think, is sort of the short form of the case name, but it's about gun ownership and open carry and these
sorts of, you know, where people can have guns and for what reasons.
And it this conservative leaning court decides to create are more expansive conception of gun rights than what Heller (ph) provides, we are going to
have a very different country. A country where the brandishing of guns at places where we currently believe they should not be, like near where
voters maybe congregating or -- and sort of very public democratic convenings, maybe these things begin to get tested.
We also know from research from a number of legal scholars that just the very presence of guns in places where peaceful protest is happening kills
the protest, the people's ability to exercise their First Amendment rights. And so, the Second Amendment is no more important than all the other ones.
SREENIVASAN: We have talked about a number of things from criminal justice reform to gun right to Supreme Court, democracy. Where do we start? I mean,
how do we tackle, well, maybe help fix some of this?
JOHNSON: Well, you know, I will sound like a broken record here because the first place to start to address any issue in our public sphere, any
issue that can be resolved via public policy is to allow people to participate in the process of democracy. Which means, protecting our right
to vote and ensuring that the process of democracy is protected against those who tried to gain it, in any number of ways from gerrymandering all
the way through dark money, et cetera.
So, voting rights is the most important thing to do in the nearest term to ensure all the other things we care about like infrastructure, like social
safety net programs, like education, the economy, criminal justice, et cetera, these other things don't get addressed if you don't have a
government that is responsive to the will of the people.
And the way to ensure that government is responsive to the will of the people is to ensure that you equip people with the tools and the processes
and the institutions that will accept their participation, recognize their voice and then, elect people who will hear that voice and act on behalf of
the people to carry out its expressed will. This doesn't mean there won't be contentious arguments around these debates, but it means we will have a
process that will facilitate consensus building and compromise in a way that our current version of democracy doesn't have the capacity to permit
good nuanced public policy conversations or debates.
SREENIVASAN: Ted Johnson, thank so much for joining us.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: A really important conversation there.
And finally, from us tonight, 10 million steps, 1,000 plus kilometers, 295 days, 24 pairs of shoes and seven encounters with bears. This is the
extraordinary journey of a Stanford University students Jackson Parell and Sammy Potter who achieved something only about 10 other people have before
them, completing the so-called Triple Crown, that's hiking three of America's long longest trails in one calendar year. It was a courageous
quest with no margin for error.
And here now are the young men themselves.
Jackson Parell and Sammy Potter, welcome to the program.
Let me begin by asking you a very important question after all this time together, are you still friends?
SAMMY POTTER, COMPLETED TRIPLE CROWN OF HIKING: Not only are we still friends, we're going back to school in January and we're going to be
CHURCH: Oh, fantastic. Well, let's dive right in to this experience that you two had together. And I want to start by quoting something you wrote
about this trip. You wrote, hiking just one of these long-distance trails, and let's say what you hiked, it was the Appalachian Trail, it was the
Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. But you wrote, hiking just one of these long-distance is an enormous accomplishment. Hiking them
all in a lifetime is a great mission. But attempting to through hike all of them in it one year, certifiably insane.
Certifiably insane. And yet, Jackson, that's exactly what you did. How did you come about this decision?
JACKSON PARELL, COMPLETED TRIPLE CROWN OF HIKING: Yes. I think insane is a good word to use. And a lot of people did think we were insane. And it kind
of came about, you know, in -- it was a -- it came about in the pandemic. We were feeling really trapped being indoors all the time. We were taking
Zoom calls and going to class online.
And, you know, I think going outside, having this journey as a mission really gave us purpose again during the pandemic. And so, you know, Sammy
was the one that originally came up with the idea. And then, a couple months later, we went on the hike together and he asked me to be hiking
partner. And it got the gears turning in my head about what an awesome way it would be to spend a year, just because so many people my age, we're
trying to figure things out. And we go out into the world in order to do that.
GOLODRYGA: Right. And the pandemic was something that no one saw coming really and the impact that it had on students and college students was
GOLODRYGA: But you decide to venture out and do something that very few people had done before. And, Sammy, that required a lot of planning, right,
not just the routes that you would take and the time that you would go, but also conditioning your own bodies. Talk about that.
POTTER: Yes. Certainly. I think one really important thing to note is how far ahead of January 1st we sort of started preparations. When I first came
kind of across the idea, it was like March of 2020 and then we left in January of 2021. So, about nine months. And throughout those whole nine
months, we kind of had to reframe our entire lives to make every decision, every action of our day in some way contribute to the preparation of this
So, as you pointed out, that's everything from like physical conditioning to logistical planning, figuring out when it's going to be possible to hike
what sections of this trail, because, you know, a lot of it we had to hike in the winter, which requires its own set of skills, gear and challenges.
And then, also, just how we were going to be able do it with being in the middle of college and being, you know, two kids who haven't had a chance to
like make an income.
So, you know, every decision that we made from when we decided to do it came from this long-term goal. And, you know, when you're in the process of
going through like those little nitty-gritty things like, oh, should I work an extra shift at my job to, you know, make a little bit extra money, it
can be monotonous. But then, like having that kind of long-term vision, you know, just became about all those little nitty-gritty things in trying to
do everything for this one purpose.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. Really important to note, Jackson, for anybody who may be watching and wanting to replicate what you both did, but that having been
said, all the planning in the world can't prevent things that happen along the way, right, whether it's the elements, whether it's your own physical
health. And you were really keen on adapting to your surroundings and deciding to maybe not do it all thoroughly, right, throughout all three of
these trails. You mix it up. You went back and forth. And we have video of you explaining just that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POTTER: With the pace that we're trying to go and the schedule that we're trying to keep, you know, it's really sort of making, like you said, some
cost benefit analysis and then, sort of just hoping for the best and knowing that there might be stages where you just have to push through more
PARELL: Right. And so, you know, it's just a lot to think about.
PARELL: And compounded on top of all this is the pandemic, of course.
PARELL: And we were going to try to minimize the number of times that we're having to transfer trails so that we don't have to hop on a plane
every few months.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Jackson, explain the thought process that went into that and, again, all this happening in the midst of a pandemic.
PARELL: Yes. Absolutely. So, we were trying to be as careful as possible when we started out the trails. I think, initially, you know, our reasoning
for starting on the AT was because January 1st isn't the most popular start date at the southern terminus of the AT.
And so, we really just didn't see anyone walking north. We ended up having to transfer trails when we got to the half way point of the AT. And we
switched over into the desert sections of the PTT and CDT. And really, it wasn't for the first four or five months that we saw anyone on trail. And
we tried to make that -- we did that purposefully because we knew that, you know, we wanted to keep ourselves safe and also the communities that we
were going through.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. And, Sammy, you talk about the sort of trail angels that you encounter along the way that would help you guys whenever one of you
was sick or when you needed to get extra food or when the elements were just too overbearing. If there was one incident that you think was the most
frightening or the hardest to it deal with, whether it was the weather or just how you mentally were feeling or encounters with bears, take your
pick, what was it?
POTTER: Yes. I mean, we really just had a number. So, as you pointed out, we had like multiple interactions with bears. One that was, you know, a
fairly close call. We had lots of interactions with fires as well. But the one that I'd have to point to as being the scariest and sort of most
impactful was coming down with giardia and E. coli while on trail.
And speaking of trail angels, we kind of got bailed out a little bit here. We were entering a really remote section of the Continental Divide Trail up
in Northern Wyoming called the Wind River Range where there's about 150-to- 200-mile stretch without any access to roads. And at this point, I had been feeling sick for like two or three weeks and mostly thinking that it was
sunstroke or heatstroke or something that would sort of recover over time.
But as we entered the Wind River Range, it became clear pretty quickly that I was going downhill. I was vomiting pretty often and sort of on the verge
of passing out. And as we were getting to like really the last possible road crossing that we would come to until we got to the, you know, other
side of this mountain range, I wasn't feeling good and Jackson had the idea of, you know, trying to bail out and get to like some sort of urgent care
to see what was going on.
We kept going a little bit longer. And then, eventually, someone that we met previously on the trail was able to come give us a ride into the
nearest town. Went to the urgent care and that's when I was very quickly diagnosed with giardia and two types E. coli, which was -- you know, it
sounds pretty bad. But when I got that diagnosis, I was really excited because it meant that I was, you know, finally going to feel a little bit
better because it's an, you know, acute diagnosis with a very clear way of treatment. But it was very sketchy, you know, feeling that sick for that
GOLODRYGA: Yes. Some quick thinking on Jackson's part and that trail angel there to help you guys out. And, of course, me being a mom myself, Jackson,
I was wondering how your parents and your mothers felt about this. And I read a lengthy article that showed pictures of your moms meeting you at
various points throughout your hikes. What was your parent's reaction throughout all of this? Were they nervous? Encouraging? A little of both?
PARELL: Yes. You know, I think that's probably one of the things that I'm most thankful for from my parents was how supportive they were throughout
the entire process. You know, as we said, a lot of people thought we were insane for doing this. And still our parents, you know, provided the
backing that we needed to get ourselves to the start of our Triple Crown on January 1st, and they continued that support throughout.
I remember, you know, my mom was the one that transferred us to the southern terminus of the CDT. And she rented a car and brought us down to
where the trail actually starts. And it is in the middle of absolutely nowhere. It is just desert and border patrol. And she -- as a mother
yourself, I'm sure that you know like the feeling of dropping your kid off just to walk north must have been really terrifying for her.
GOLODRYGA: Oh, I can --
PARELL: And so --
GOLODRYGA: I can only imagine. We only have a few seconds left here. And I just want to, again, commend you both for accomplishing something few
people have. I can only imagine what's next for you. I am a mother and I'm a stepmother too. Both of my step kids are Stanford students as well. So,
if you happen to see them on campus, as your roommates, take them on a hike, perhaps just around the dish. They don't need to go on these long
trails with you. I don't have the stomach for it. But I'm glad you guys did it.
Congratulations and happy holidays to you both.
POTTER: Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: And that is it for now. Thank you for watching and happy holidays. It's been a pleasure being with you this year. And good-bye from