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Interview With El Paso City Council Woman Claudia Rodriguez; Interview With Former New York City Council Speaker And WIN President And CEO Christine Quinn; Interview With Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT); Interview With Clotilda Descendant Emmett Lewis; Interview With "Descendant" Director Margaret Brown. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired December 22, 2022 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SARA SIDNER, CNN HOST, CNN TONIGHT: Hello and welcome to AMANPOUR. Here's what's coming up. A mountain humanitarian crisis and America's southern
border. We hear from migrants who made the harrowing journey, and we ask with the likely end of the Trump era immigration policy means for
communities. Then --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): I do think that there are a bunch of Republicans in my body who want to show the democracy can still work, because they're
really worried about that potential for insurrection.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNEY: U.S. Senator, Chris Murphy, tells Walter Isaacson whether his plan to reform election laws can prevent a repeat of January 6th.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't want our history to be taken the same way our people were taken.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: The search for America's last known slave ship exposes a 19th century crime. What it means for its descendants today. I speak to one of
them, Emmett Lewis, and the director, Margaret Brown, about her documentary, "Descendant."
Welcome to the program. I'm Sara Sidner in New York sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.
No end in sight for the crisis unraveling at America's southern border as dangerously cold temperatures set in there. Thousands of migrants are
gathered at the border, some eagerly awaiting the end of the Trump era border restriction called Title 42. That policy barred asylum seekers from
entering the United States on public health grounds and was due to expire yesterday until a last-minute intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court.
On the ground, beyond the fences and wall of steel, humanitarian workers describe scenes of intolerable suffering, with families living on the
streets and sidewalks, and children sick and hungry. This is just three days away from Christmas as frigid temperatures arrive threatening to
increase the suffering. The Biden administration says that it wants the policy to end, just not yet.
In the border City of Brownsville, Texas, Correspondent Rosa Flores spoke to a family of migrants from Venezuela about their harrowing journey to the
United States, and what awaited them when they finally arrived.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): The anticipation building on the Mexican side of the border on the day Title 42 was set to be lifted.
These videos shot by a migrant and provided to CNN show migrants in Matamoros using rafts to cross the Rio Grande. Some in the crowd provide
commentary, saying, they're tired of the long wait. And that U.S. immigration authorities are watching it all happen.
FLORES (on camera): I'm in Brownsville, Texas. The river is right behind me are drone cameras capturing a similar scene. A large group of migrants
on the Mexican side, a large law enforcement presence on the U.S. side. Our cameras were rolling as a group of migrants, including a child, crossed
into the United States and turned themselves into authorities. All this contributing to what one law enforcement source says is up to 1,200
migrants turning themselves into border authorities every day in this part of South Texas.
FLORES (voiceover): Border Patrol is dropping off hundreds of them in respite centers, say advocates. Most of them travel out the same day. But
local shelters are starting to see an uptick of migrants who can afford to.
FLORES (on camera): So, migrants from all over the world?
VICTOR MALDONADO, DIRECTOR, OZANAM CENTER: Yes, they're coming in from all over the world.
FLORES (voiceover): Like this family from Venezuela who say they sold everything they owned and borrowed money to migrate to the U.S. as a
situation in their country became unbearable.
FLORES (on camera): They say that about four months ago, words spread in Venezuela that the U.S. border was open. That's why you decided to come
FLORES (voiceover): Omar (ph) and Glenni (ph) want to go by their first names only because of fear it could impact their case. For 29 days, they
braved the elements with their eight-year-old daughter Camilla (ph) in an encampment in Matamoros.
FLORES (on camera): Once you got to the border, you realized that the border was closed.
FLORES (voiceover): They turned themselves into immigration at the port of entry this week.
FLORES (voiceover): What would you to tell migrants?
He says that it's not worth selling everything you own to come to the United States because the border is closed.
FLORES (voiceover): As evidenced by these videos showing migrants risking their lives, and the lives of their children to end their wait in Mexico
and start life in the U.S.
SIDNER: Our thanks to Rosa Flores for that touching report. She tells us the Venezuelan couple she profiled won't have their first appointment with
an immigration judge until November of 2024.
That speaks to the backlog in U.S. immigration court. So, what does the end of Title 42 mean for the border, and what comes next? At the forefront of
the crisis is Claudia Rodriguez. She is a city councilman in El Paso, Texas and former New York City council speaker, Christine Quinn, is now president
and CEO of WIN, an immigration providing safe housing and services for women and children. Welcome both of you to the program.
CHRISTINE QUINN, FORMER NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL SPEAKER, PRESIDENT AND CEO, WIN: Thank you.
CLAUDIA RODRIGUEZ, COUNCIL WOMAN, EL PASO CITY: Thank you.
SIDNER: Claudia, I first want to talk to. Can you describe for us what it is like in El Paso right now with the surge of desperate human beings
coming over the border?
RODRIGUEZ: Thank you. So, I want to start off by saying that El Paso is a city of immigrants. I myself comes from a family of immigrants. My mother
and my father are immigrants, my grandparents. My husband. I'm also have dual citizenship with Mexico.
So, this year in El Paso, to have immigrants on a daily basis is a normal thing. However, what's going on now is something that I would say is
unprecedented. It's something that we've never seen before. People are sleeping on our streets. People coming in, in droves. And it's freezing in
El Paso. I think that also adds to the unprecedent of it. And, you know, we are scrambling to do everything that we can.
We are very a hardworking community. We are -- we feel very overtaxed. Having to use money from our general fund to fund what is ultimately the
responsibility of the federal government is a very unfair situation for the people of El Paso and for the migrants themselves. I mean, they are being
told to come here and we are having to figure out how we can house them, how we can feed them, how we can keep them warm.
And right now, we currently have our convention centers set up by FEMA to do a tent city, I guess, and also -- our shelter, I'm sorry. And also, one
of the local school districts has stepped up and decided to open up one or two of their old schools that they are no longer using as shelters. We're
doing everything that we can. The community is very stressed about it. Our local law enforcement is very stressed out about it. And we feel that,
ultimately, this is the responsibility of the federal governments.
And instead of sending us millions of dollars, you know, which we're still waiting on, we need them to come here and set up an operation and they need
to deal with this directly themselves.
SIDNER: Councilwoman Rodriguez, let me follow up by asking you, where many of the migrants are coming from, do you have a sense of who is coming
across the border? And you talked about the help that you need, it hasn't arrived. I mean, who do you blame for this? Because this border crisis is
one that keeps coming. It comes in waves.
Can you give me a sense of, you know, is there someone to blame for this and what do you think should be done?
RODRIGUEZ: So, I think that migrants right now, they are they're coming from all over the world. Normally, like I was -- I said at the beginning of
my conversation is, normally migrants here in El Paso, we are a city of migrants. And normally, you know, we have -- we share the border with the
people of Juarez, Ciudad Juarez. And we are used to coming back and forth. I go visit them regularly. They come visit us regularly. And then,
everybody goes home. And that is what we're accustomed to.
So, this, again, is something unprecedented. There's people coming from all over the world and they are not from Mexico. They are not from Juarez.
There from everywhere but there. I feel that the -- what's happening right now is different in the sense that we have never seen this before. Those
images that you will showed and the images that are being played all over the internet, that's not normal for us. That has not happened.
And while illegal immigration has been an issue throughout our history, because we have a broken immigration system, what's happening right now is
something completely different. It's something completely unprecedented.
I can only point to the federal government, to the Biden administration, because, like I said, immigration is a federal issue. It is not a local
issue. It is not us, it's the federal government. And so, I do blame the federal government for what they're doing. And while I don't believe that
the lifting of Title 42 would have necessarily saved us, because I feel that, at this point, it's a little bit too little, too late, it was a tool.
But certainly, not a permanent one. Certainly not the solution to this.
I do suggest and I do call on the president of the United States to come to El Paso and see what his decisions have made of our city. This is not what
we're used to.
SIDNER: Claudia, you are making a direct call to President Biden to come see the situation on the ground, and I know it's been a long time since he
I do want to get now to Christine Quinn, because one of the things that we've seen and in -- you know, is, you know, the Republican governors of
Texas and Florida and Arizona, sending thousands of people to cities like New York, which has had an impact.
SIDNER: One in which, you know, the mayor has -- here, has said, you know, this is having a great effect and it's an emergency for us. What do you
expect New York is going to see as this surge makes its way further north?
QUINN: Well, we've seen today, you know, tens of thousands of people, mostly families with children, sent by the governors, very unceremoniously,
to New York. And let's be clear, it wasn't like those governors called the mayor of the City of New York and said, we need help. We had no idea this
was happen until it happened.
And WIN, we are the largest provider of shelter and permanent supportive housing to homeless families with children in the city. We, right now, are
housing 270 asylum seeking families. In those families, there are 700 children. We expect that number of families who are coming to New York to
continue to rise, maybe even again in the thousands.
The -- one of the problems is that our shelters system was very full before this happened and it's even more full now, because it's very hard to help
these families find permanent housing because they are not eligible for benefits, which means that when these families come, they will be put in
hotels, which do not have the services or the trauma informed care that shelters do. And I worry how those families will make out.
You know, when you say, all he had was a shirt on his back, that's the reality of these families. When they get off the bus and they have the just
the cloths on their back and usually flip-flops, and they're coming to a place where it snows, we've had to provide everything they've needed,
including three meals a day, because they don't get qualified for food stamps.
To date, we have spent -- and we will continue to do it. But today, we have spent a million dollars more than we are budgeted in our budget because of
the complex needs of these families and how they aren't being given status that they qualify for, and that would change everything for us, for them,
and for the city.
SIDNER: That status, I'm assuming, would enable you to get federal funds and to get other kinds of funding.
SIDNER: Which is something that we've certainly heard from Council Woman Rodriguez that the funding hasn't come to where she is, which has dealt
with this problem for a very, very, very long time.
QUINN: And I would also --
SIDNER: I want to ask -- sure. Go ahead.
QUINN: -- enable them to get things like food stamps, so they could go buy their own food versus us having to get -- provide meals for them every day.
SIDNER: Council Woman Rodriguez, let me ask you sort of about the difference between -- you know, you've got this humanitarian crisis, and
there needs to be humanitarian aid versus the resources issue. How do you think the United States can juggle those two things? There is this urged to
keep cities well-funded, well-resourced and safe while trying to deal with this real humanitarian need with people that have almost nothing as they
come across the border. How do you think that can be fixed?
RODRIGUEZ: I mean, I -- again, the complications of this whole issue is the fact that the people of El Paso, the people of New York, we are having
to fund this whole situation through our general funds. And I understand that New York has a much larger budget than El Paso, but it still doesn't
make it OK that they also have to be paying and funding for this.
I think that this needs to be fixed out of legislative level. I think that us throwing all the money in the world is very unfair, not only to the
migrants but to the people of this nation. Because, ultimately, when we're paying for it in El Paso, when we're paying for it in New York City, we're
the ones paying for it.
So, it is very important, I think, the ultimate solution for this is for our elected officials, our Congress, our president of the United States,
the people that really have the power to do something about this really come down to El Paso, or anywhere on the border, Arizona, Texas, wherever,
and see what's happening and really put themselves in a situation where they want to do something right, not only for the migrants, but for the
people of this nation.
It is very unfair that we have homeless, American homeless, that we have veterans that are sleeping out on the streets and it's just as cold and
we're having to push them aside because we are having to deal with this crisis that, again, we are doing it. We're stepping up because that's what
we do as Americans, we step up for other people. But ultimately, this responsibility is of the federal government.
SIDNER: I do want to ask you also about what we've heard from President Biden and sort of this idea that after the election, his opponents came for
him saying, the Republicans, saying that, look, there's going to be a surge because he's "a nice guy." And this is how President Biden responded to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Well, look, I should be flattered people are coming because I'm the nice guy. That's the reason why it's happening. That
I'm a decent man, or whatever is phrased, that -- you know, that's why they are coming, because, you know, Biden is a good guy.
Truth of the matter is, nothing has changed. As many people came, 28 percent increase in children at the border in my administration. 31 percent
in the last year, in 2019, before the pandemic, in the Trump administration. It happens every single solitary year. There is a
significant increase of the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March. It happens every year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Council Woman Rodriguez, you say that this is actually different that you haven't seen it, this extreme in El Paso. But I want to talk to
you about the -- whether or not you see this as a Republican problem or a Democratic problem.
Because right now, President Biden is in the White House. He is where the buck stops. And so, I'm curious what you think keeps America from moving
forward and having a really clear immigration policy so that the rumors that we just heard from one of the migrants, he thought that the border was
literally open and was disappointed and heartbroken when he realized that it wasn't and he brought his whole family and sold everything they had.
So, what is the answer to trying to keep America going forward while having a better immigration policy, and who do you think needs to get that done?
RODRIGUEZ: So, I don't think this a Democratic problem or a Republican problem. This is an American problem. I think that the president of the
United States told people, hey, you can come here, and these are the result of that, these are the repercussions of that. People selling everything
that they own.
There is a process in this nation as to which we should be able to come. I will repeat again, my grandparents migrated here legally. My parents
migrated here legally. My husband migrated here legally. And I am a first generation American and I hold a dual citizenship. So, there is an
opportunity there for everyone to go to that process.
In El Paso, we are 90 percent Hispanic. Everybody here has a migration story of one sort or the other. But what is going on right now is not it.
That story does not apply to everybody here. What should apply here --
SIDNER: You're right. It's just not sustainable.
QUINN: Right. Can I just say though that the council member state say --
QUINN: -- that the president kind of invited everyone. Look, I have spoken to countless numbers of the families we have staying with us at WIN, and
not one person said, we came here, or came to Texas because President Biden said X, Y, or Z. They tell stories of violence, they tell stories of sexual
assault, sex trafficking, having to sleep with --
QUINN: -- smugglers so their children can get fed at night. That's what's being said. Yes, it is causing huge challenges, no question the council
member is right. Those have to be dealt with, but we need to understand why these people are coming and the real horrors that they are fleeing.
SIDNER: I'm going to have to leave it there. Christine Quinn and Council Woman Rodriguez, thank you so much for really --
QUINN: Thank you.
RODRIGUEZ: Thank you.
SIDNER: -- talking about this issue as a humanitarian issue, but also as a major political fail for both sides of the aisle. I appreciate your time.
QUINN: Thank you. Happy holidays.
RODRIGUEZ: Thank you.
SIDNER: All right. Ukraine's President Zelenskyy is headed home today after delivering a historic and emotional wartime message from the U.S.
capital last night. He presented lawmakers with a flag signed by Ukrainian troops and emphasized his country's crucial relationship with the United
States against Russian aggression.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: Our two nations are allies in this battle. And next year will get to the point, I know, the point when
Ukrainian courage and American resolve must guarantee a future of our common freedom. The freedom of people who stand for their values. Ukraine
holds its lines and will never surrender.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Providing aid to Ukraine is one of many pressing issues facing Congress. Our next guest, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy is pushing to
reform America's election laws to prevent another January 6th, and he is also backing legislation to confront the epidemic of gun violence. Here he
tells Walter Isaacson why he thinks more Republicans are now willing to cross the aisle to get things done.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Sara. And, Senator Chris Murphy, welcome to the show.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): Thanks for having me.
ISAACSON: You are one of the sponsors of the electoral reformat that they're going to try to vote on, you and the Senate, again, try to vote on
before the end of the year, attach it to a bill that has the path. Explain to me what is in the bill and why it's so important to pass it now?
MURPHY: So, the law governing how we count electors to choose the president of the United States dates from 1887, that is a long time ago.
And what we saw in the last presidential election is the weaknesses in that law, President Trump proved at a very old, very frail law, and exposed some
real vulnerabilities. The most notable is of him to get Vice President Pence to effectively cancel certain electoral votes. But he also endeavored
to try to use some new legal theories that would allow for states to substitute a state legislature's judgment for the electorate's judgment.
We got together, a group of us, Republicans and Democrats, and decided that we wanted to rewrite the way that we count electors, the way that we
conduct the Electoral College to make it much less likely that any candidate can manipulate that vote, to make it much less likely the wrong
president, essentially, is chosen at the Electoral College. And we did that.
We came together, wrote a bill that makes clear that the vice president is ceremonial, really cuts down any of the chances that state legislators can
substitute their judgment for the electorate. Raises the threshold by which Congress can overturn the judgment of a state's decision. I think it's a
really good piece of legislation. It does not eliminate the possibility that the 2024 election could be stolen, but it raises the bar for
ISAACSON: We're coming up to the second anniversary of the January 6th insurrection, and House of Representatives just did criminal referrals
relating to that somewhat with Former President Trump. With this electoral reform bill do anything to prevent something like that January 6th
MURPHY: I mean, I don't think there is any piece of legislation that we can pass that would stop someone like Donald Trump from engaging in open
insurrection against the government if a future presidential candidate wants to muster his supporters in a violent mob, there is not a piece of
legislation that can prevent that from happening. That fortunately becomes a matter of law enforcement.
What this bill will do though is lower the temperature around that critical day. The reason why Donald Trump mustered all of those people in Washington
that day was because he was going to get a vote. He was going to get a vote in the House and the Senate to throw out the electors from Arizona and
Pennsylvania. Why? Because under the previous law, one senator and one member of the House were required in order to enforce that vote.
Under this proposal, you would now need 20 percent of both bodies in order to force that vote. It's something that Donald Trump didn't have in the
United States Senate in 2021. So, it does make it harder for that sort of debate to even begin in the Congress about throwing out electors and that
potentially makes it a little bit harder for corrupt presidents or a corrupt candidate to convince his supporters that they can come to
Washington and try to disrupt the count.
ISAACSON: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the killings of the Sandy Hook Elementary School. You just become a senator. Tell me how that
affected your career.
MURPHY: Well, I had just been elected to the United States Senate when Sandy Hook occurred. I was actually the congressman representing that
district at the time. But, you know, it changed my political career. I'm embarrassed that I, you know, didn't work on the issue of gun violence
before Sandy Hook. I should have been working on this issue. It was plaguing cities in my state. But it was a wakeup call to me, and to the
nation. And I decided to devote my career to trying to change the laws of this country and make Sandy Hook less likely.
Obviously, we have seen mass shooting after mass shooting, spikes in homicides all over the country. But this year, you know, we did finally
pass, first time in 30 years, a major gun safety initiative. And I am proud that our movement has now become strong enough. That movement has, as part
of it, many of the families, many students from Sandy Hook, and I'm very proud of them.
ISAACSON: You know, firearms is the leading cause of death among young kids. What could be done next? What would you like to see happen after this
reform of the past year?
MURPHY: So, what we have in this country is a massive black market in firearms, and that is how firearms often end up in the hands of young kids.
So, background checks is the quickest way to stop that black market because how the black market starts is a criminal trafficker, buying a whole bunch
of weapons in a state where there is no background checks.
The second thing we should take a look at is the safe storage of firearms. A lot of the shootings are accidental. A lot of the shootings involve a kid
taking a weapon from an adult. And that's an area where there might not be as much politics, right, because the gun owners, even NRA members,
generally agree that storing weapons safely, locking them up, is important and part of your responsibility.
So, these are two things that, I think, we could do. Assault weapons ban, those are harder to get passed in a split Congress. But safe storage,
background checks, those are certainly within the realm of responsibility.
ISAACSON: In this period of hyper partisanship, you and Texas senator, John Cornyn, have actually been able to work together. Tell me about your
relationship and whether or not we can get back to that model, which we had this 20 or 30 years ago in the Senate?
MURPHY: Yes. I mean, as everyone understands, this world still runs on relationships and friendships. And so does Washington, D.C. John Cornyn,
conservative Republican from Texas, a different generation than me, we have, you know, struck up a friendship and we trust each other.
And so, after Uvalde happened in his state, I mean, he was personally moved by what happened here. He wanted to respond. He felt like he had to as a
public servant from Texas. But he wasn't willing to go as far as I was. But he knew that I was willing to find that common ground.
I do think that there are, at least in the Senate, more Republicans willing to find common ground than prior to January 6th of last year. I do think
that there are a bunch of Republicans of in my body, who want to show the democracy can still work, because they're really worried about that
potential for insurrection. It remains to be seen whether there will be Republicans in the House next year who will be interested in the same
But, you know, in the last two years, it wasn't just the gun safety bill, it was the chips act. Restarting the American manufacturing industry for
microchips. It was the bipartisan infrastructure bill. It's the electoral count act that we just talked about. There are a bunch of Republicans who
are willing to work in the Senate. And I think that all springs forth from this sort of desire to show that American democracy is not worth throwing
ISAACSON: You recently -- I read it last night, it's great -- wrote an essay about loneliness. Explain to me how you came on to that topic and how
it intersects with the politics you're talking about?
MURPHY: I mean, listen. So, I think at the heart of many of the issues we've been talking about, whether it be the epidemic or gun violence in
this nation or whether it be the threats to our democracy, is a real metaphysical crisis in this country. The stats tell you is that more people
feel intense loneliness, feel aloneness than ever before. Kids report epidemic levels of isolation. 60 percent of teenagers reported intense
And that loneliness, listen, sometimes it leads the cataclysmic violence, but most of the time it just leads to sadness and fear and anger. And when
people are angry, ultimately, they look for identity in dangerous places. That's where sort of demigods' train. And so, I think, as policymakers, we
can't spend all of our time and solutions, right? Sometimes it's worthwhile to just kind of take the temperature of the nation, sort of try to register
how people are feeling and get some consensus around that question first.
So, I've been talking about this problem of aloneness and isolation, because I actually thing the solutions are not that political. You know,
whether it be sort of regulating social media so that it is a healthier place, that doesn't sort of feed feelings of isolation, or whether it's
rebuilding our local communities, our downtowns, you know, making our local sports leagues and civics clubs healthy places again. I mean, none of that
stuff is super political.
And so, I feel like, if we talk about how Americans are feeling, in particular, this feeling, it's a platform for bipartisan cooperation.
ISAACSON: You talk about the breakdown of local communities, things got globalize, you know, jobs were outsourced, technology, free trade did
things. Did we make a bit of mistake and you've talk about economic nationalism a bit, is that a way to correct that mistake?
MURPHY: I do. I think it's time for both parties to admit that we made a mistake. It was understandable. I mean, I think, you know, it was easy to
believe this narrative that ultimately the benefits of globalization would come our way, and that the benefits of technology would ultimately outweigh
the downside. That's not how it played out.
What has happened is, you know, the good paying jobs, the sort of blue collar, aristocratic jobs that used to populate all these small cities in
Connecticut left, and the jobs that replace them weren't as good. We also sort of lost our local identity, right? I mean, we don't go to our local
butcher or our local grocery, do all of our shopping online. And that sort of identity that we attached to our place that we lived in was healthy.
It's been replaced by identity, sometimes political identities that are much less healthy.
So, yes. I just think we need to have a really concerted policy of economic nationalism, bringing industry back home, better paying jobs that are
things that are available today, but also rebuilding and subsidizing the health of our communities. That means, you know, local small businesses,
churches, civic clubs, newspapers. I actually think it makes sense to spend money on those things so as to rebuild our culture and place that has been
kind of gobbled up by this antiseptic one size fits all global economy in which our place-based identity is erased and replaced by things that are
much more toxic.
ISAACSON: Well, you say spend money on it, I mean, should governments be spending money on local community newspapers or even local butchers?
MURPHY: Well, we spend plenty of money subsidizing companies and corporations in this country, why not make a decision to spend a little bit
more time subsidizing local commerce? The answer is not to just say, it's too hard. I think the downside of having lost local journalism, right, that
is how we learned about our communities, that's how we learned about our neighbors.
I think there is a real social and political cost donation. And so, I just don't believe the answer can be -- no local news media is gone. I think we
should think about ways that the public sector, we, as a collective, can help keep local news media afloat.
ISAACSON: How does this epidemic of loneliness breakdown demographically or ethnically?
MURPHY: I mean, the real epidemic is amongst young people. So, you're talking about 60 percent, as I mentioned, sort of feel -- a percentage of
teenagers who are reporting intense feelings of loneliness, even worse, amongst teenage girls. And again, I just don't think you can look at that
huge rise in loneliness and isolation amongst teenagers as coincidental to the emergence of social media, Instagram, all of the -- you know, all sort
of -- all the envy that is created by sort of looking at these sorts of manicured lives online that aren't yours, ultimately seems like it's really
hurting our kids. There's also plenty of evidence to suggest that there is something helping amongst white men in this country. You have suicide rates
spiraling up amongst white man, often in rural areas.
Generally, the numbers have been, you know, lower when we look at suicides, for instance, amongst African Americans or Hispanics. And there's lots of
theories for that. I think part of it is that, you know, years of oppression and subjugation have built kind of resilience in some
populations in this country. White men who have been used to their position of influence and prioritization having sort of lost it very quickly. What
comes with that often is a sense of panic in crisis.
But it is young people, I think that have borne the brunt of this, which is why I sort of focused first on, you know, taking a look at protecting them
from some of the excesses of a corrosive nature of the internet.
ISAACSON: You talk about this epidemic of loneliness and to some extent, economic disenfranchisement and lack of a community as being a real public
health problem. But it also seems to me that it's at the root of a lot of anger when they all feeling in our society, that it seems, maybe I'm wrong,
a higher level of anger, especially when expressed in politics than we used to have. Is that right?
MURPHY: I think it is. There have been intense times in American politics before today, but there are all sorts of signs around us right now that
something a bit different is happening. I mentioned, I think, in one of these pieces that I was sitting down with the head of TSA, and I sort of
asked him about these viral videos of, you know, people on flights sort of erupting, and he says, no, it is not an anomaly, what you are seeing. This
is happening all over the country, on planes, at airports, people are just, right now, on a very thin wire.
I think the consequences certainly sort of leached into our politics, when you have candidates who trade on anger, like Donald Trump did, when people
are lonely and thus, more angry, they tend to sort of run a little bit faster to candidates whose bases, whose foundation is built on division.
So, yes, I think there is more anger in American culture today. Anger is driving our politics. And it's just no doubt that there is a connection
between loneliness and anger. Just think to yourself the times in your life where you have felt more lonely. For me, those are times when I'm a little
bit quicker to anger. And so, I think it makes sense that that connection exists.
ISAACSON: You talk about the failure of demographic institutions here and around Europe, part of it too is the undermining of belief in the electoral
system, that somehow how votes doesn't -- don't count. How do we restore some sense that we are all in this together, that the democracy means we
all have a voice?
MURPHY: Well, I think it first involves just a very vocal pushback on this idea that there is fraud in our elections. I think sometimes, Democrats are
sort of too eager to -- you know, sort of to adopt systems to protect against a threat that doesn't exist.
Listen, fine. Let's make sure our elections are safe. But they are, and there is no evidence that anybody is out there stuffing ballot boxes. So, I
just think we've got to be a little bit more vocal about that.
And I think all of us just have to step back and, you know, talk about the importance of democracy in a multicultural society, right? Today, a lot of
politicians view democracy, view government as the place where we air our grievances, right? It's a forum in which to argue. But in a multicultural
place like ours, in fact, it's the opposite, it's actually the place where we are supposed to sort out the differences. It's the place where we are
actually supposed to come and compromise because this is unnatural nation, right, without a place where you sort out all of your differences, America,
by design, would explode.
And so, I just think that -- and I think that is why you have these Republicans who have decided to, you know, find compromise on the toughest
issues out there, elections, guns, infrastructure because they have a feeling that we've got to start showing Americans that democracy is the
place to sort out your differences, not a place to just yell at each other and argue.
ISAACSON: Senator Chris Murphy, thanks so much for joining us.
MURPHY: Thank you. Appreciate it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: And while lawmakers grapple with addressing the gaps and the law, a filmmaker is trying to fill the gap in our collective memory and history.
The Clotilda is the last-known ship to have brought enslaved Africans to America. A new documentary on its descendants examines their fight to
preserve their heritage, and what justice means to them today. It's called "Descendant." And here is a clip from the trailer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They created this thriving place, and they have been holding it down and fighting ever since.
But by 2019, half of the town just completely surrounded in every direction by some form of heavy industry.
EMMETT LEWIS, CLOTILDA DESCENDANT: What person want to wake up knowing that they are sitting on historic land but they got to smell the chemicals
from a factory?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of influential people involved in all of this. I think the book of secrets is going to be open.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't want our history to be taken the same way our people were taken.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: The documentary was produced by Barack and Michelle Obama, and it's just been shortlisted by the Oscars for best documentary feature film.
And with me now, we are delighted to have its director, Margaret Brown, and descendant of the Clotilda, Emmett Lewis. Both are joining me from Mobile,
Alabama. Thank you for being here.
MARGARET BROWN: Thank you.
EMMETT LEWIS, CLOTILDA DESCENDANT: Thank you.
SIDNER: So, I'd like to talk to you first, Emmett. And, you know, I just heard that the sound of a gentleman saying, you know, the book of secret is
about to be opened. Can you tell us what the Clotilda means to you and your family, it's significance on a personal level?
LEWIS: Well, on a personal level for me, personally, I mean, it doesn't mean too much towards like it's a family item that we are holding, you
know, near and dear. Like, for us, it's just, that's the reason we are here. Like that is the only way we look at it. It's not too much of we are
just, you know, holding it on a gray statue, like no -- it's just -- you know, that's the ship that got us here. That's all it is for us.
SIDNER: And for you, why did you take part in this documentary? You tell an incredibly deep story about family and about pain, and about what is
happening now, why did you decide you want to take part in this and what message were you trying to send?
LEWIS: Well, for me, it was natural. Like, honestly, I have been talking about this since my father died because that's what he did. He talked to me
about it almost every day. And that graveyard that you see on the film, that's where we spent most of our time. And so, what made me get involved
with the film was I had a great person named Margaret that found me, and actually sat down and just listen to me talk where I didn't feel like I was
being interviewed. I didn't feel like I was doing nothing crazy. I was just telling my family's legacy.
SIDNER: You are a direct descendant of Cudjoe Lewis. And I want to play a bit from the film, and then, I will get to you, Madam Director. But this is
a poignant moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEWIS: A lot of people that's looking for the Clotilda, they think it's up this way. Some people think it's back here, but a lot of the community
people, they know it's not back here. They think it's up here. So, I mean, all our history here and we been having factories around us our whole life.
Scott Paper Company, all of this.
I mean, what person wants to wake up knowing that they are sitting on historic land but they got to smell the chemicals from a factory?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: You really do an incredible job directing this film, and the way in which you put it together, it shows both the history and it delves into
that, but also, the effects of that history on people today who are still dealing with some of the things that Emmett just brought up there. Can you
give me the sense of how you did that, and what sparked you to tell the story?
BROWN: Yes. Well, I mean, I'm from Mobile and I made a film 15 years ago that centered around the Clotilda actually. It was segregated Mardi Gras
and Mobile where I grew up. But it actually -- we found out that both the white and black Mardi Gras queens were connected through the Clotilda, the
white Mardi Gras queen was a descendant of a Meaher family who had brought the Clotilda to the United States, the last known slave ship.
And that year, Stephanie Lucas, we found out, actually after Mardi Gras, that she was a descendant from that ship. So, that was kind of how I came
into the story.
SIDNER: You mentioned your race, so I'm going to touch on that. Here you are, a white woman in Mobile, Alabama, telling the story that there are
still folks who have profited off of this ship, this ship that was a crime. What are you hearing from people, and what have you heard as you did this
film about you taking part in this and unearthing what is definitely a moment of people wanting justice, but the family are still there are and
still profiting in many ways off of the land?
BROWN: I mean, I think it's like the story of so many cities in America. And, you know, I knew that the Clotilda was a big part of the story of
where I'm from. And, you know, I don't know if I was the perfect person, as a white woman, to tell the story, but I was the person that showed up.
That's how I think of it. Because it was -- I felt very complicated for me to tell the story.
So, it was a very collaborative effort behind the camera and in front of getting it right. Because as a white person, I felt like I had a lot of
blind spots. And, you know, you -- with a story like this, that's about black history, for a white person to tell it, it's probably not always the
perfect scenario, but we had to figure out a way to get the story right and just through collaboration with my team, and -- in front of -- and with
Emmitt and telling with him and just making sure -- you know, making sure we're showing him scenes and making sure we were getting things right, you
know, that was sort of the way forward.
SIDNER: I love that you used author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston. I grew up with her. Like I grew up in Florida and grew up with her books.
And so, it was really that you let her and the descendants, including Emmitt there, tell the story and tell the narrative. I thought it was
Emmitt, I do want to ask you about justice and what does it look like to you. As you look back at your history, and then, as you look forward as to
what you think will try to heal some of the, you know, terrible pain of being yanked out of a country, your ancestors being yanked out of a country
as free and suddenly coming to the United States as slaves.
LEWIS: Well, for me, I don't think there is too much as -- how I can say - - what people will consider justice. I don't think there's too much justice that you can get towards the people that it was done to and the people that
did it. They're gone already.
But towards healing, for me, that would be more of seeing what you can do to help, like not including just people that the story is about, but
anybody just seeing what you can do to help, to build a community back to the basis of what my ancestors wanted it to be. Like, we was brought here
and we was left here, but we made our own community, we survived without any outside interference. We stayed here this long.
But now that, you know, times have changed and we're in a different time where, you know, you have to defend on the city for a lot of stuff, there
isn't really, like -- how should I say -- there's an opportunity now for you to work together with the people that are there, and there's an
opportunity for you to work with people that are descendants from their ship there that aren't there. That's -- who want to do their part to help
with that community. This is the time to do it. This is the time to speak out.
So, my justice will be just opening your mouth.
SIDNER: And you say in the film that your father talked about having you, and that you would carry the story of your family forward and this history
that really had been hushed and had been sort of pushed down.
And I think, Margaret, to you, part of that was that a crime was committed. This was a time when slaves were not supposed to be being brought. It was
illegal to do this and it happened anyways. And so, there was definitely an effort, it seems, to just quiet all of this and what happened, even though
the descendants are there, dealing with all of the repercussions of that.
Can you talk to me about the family whose history is that of those who brought the slaves over? Who still -- their descendants still live there,
and did they -- did you ever hear from them?
BROWN: Me we tried. I mean, Helen Meaher, that I spoke about who was in previous film, I thought, you know, one of the things I brought to making
"Descendant" was that, you know, she wasn't -- none of the Meaher family was speaking to anyone in the press before and after the Clotilda was
found, for generations.
And I thought because, you know, she -- within the confines of my last film, she talked about it, I thought, well, this is something I can bring.
Like, she'll talk to me. I can get that part of the story. And, you know, we did talk. We would talk on Facebook about other things, not about the
movie. But whenever I brought up anything about the movie and, you know, could it be a healing thing, if her family participated, she acted like I
just never asked the question and we would go back to talking about like long distance running or something.
But since the movie has come out, I do think some conversations are happening, which, I think, again, like I didn't -- you know, I realized
very quickly that the story I wanted to center was the story of Emmett's families and the story of Africa town, and it became clear to me, even
though the Meahers weren't speaking to me, that wasn't the right way to go, because this is generations of storytellers, you know, that have been
passing the story down by sword of mouth.
And it became very clear to the filmmaking team very early on that that was sort of the way forward because these were the storytellers.
SIDNER: You've talked about the ship being found. And so, spoiler alert, the ship is found while you're shooting this documentary. But before it was
found, one of the residents said something that was painful to hear because she had no part in creating this issue, but she felt shame about the
history of the Clotilda. Let's listen to what she says.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We talked about the Clotilda, all our lives. We heard about the ship. The ship, the ship, the ship. My dad would say, you all
need to learn. You need to learn. You need to know. You need to know. You need to know. You need to know. But it wasn't nothing that I talked about
to my friends about. It was just a shameful thing. Shameful. I mean, you know, who wants to talk about, you know, being captured and being brought
over like that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Emmitt, did you ever feel some of those same feelings or did you feel a different way when people would bring up the Clotilda, or you are
talking about it?
LEWIS: Well, it was different for me. It's completely different from me. My father was very prideful. My father was a Vietnam vet, POW. So, he had
pride. A marine corps veteran, that's pride. So, for me, it wasn't even more talking about the ship. Like my whole life, it wasn't about the ship.
My whole life is was about my family. It was about Cudjoe.
And with all of the conversations that I've had with my father, we never felt ashamed about it. We never tried to hide it or anything like that.
Maybe that's unfortunate to be young enough to be born during a time where I wouldn't be punished for talking about it, but it's just -- it was
something major thing for us because of the fact of like me being a young black man, I'm like, Cudjoe is my grandfather, like I hear all these
stories about other great black people, but I have mine that's right here, it's mine, it's my family.
And, you know, turning into a history book, like one of my favorite subjects in school was history. And it's turned into a history book. And
finally, out of, you know, 12, 13 years of school, I see one Alabama history book that's got a picture of my grandfather. It's not the story,
but it's got the picture and it tells who he is. So, you know, any small thing that I see that had Lewis on it, I wore it with pride.
SIDNER: I want to talk to you, just quickly, about the Meaher family. Has anyone reached out to you, or have you had any conversations with some of
the family members?
LEWIS: No, ma'am. I have not. Not at this exact moment. I have made a connection with someone, but we haven't got to the point where we can meet
and sit down and talk yet.
SIDNER: Why do you think this has been a closely held secret, for some? Clearly, your family talked about it quite a bit. But for some, it seems
like, you know, it's not in the history, there's a reason for that.
LEWIS: Well, for me, I mean, I look at it like any other African American story in America. Like, it was a reason that those stories was brought to
light. It was mostly, probably, at a point where it was forced out.
So, right now, this is the story, this is the time for this one to get forced out. So, that's really all I have to say about that. I just -- I
really think it's just -- it's a time for everything. And I know for a fact, with this being brought out earlier, it could affect -- it could have
a -- had a -- how should I say -- a legal effect on someone. So, now, now it's just -- with this time that we're in now, we can speak about. We can
talk about it. So, we are not shutting our mouth about it.
SIDNER: Margaret Brown, Emmett Lewis, thank you both for joining us. It is an incredibly touching film. And it reveals a great deal of history. I
really enjoyed watching it. I appreciate you both.
BROWN: Thank you.
LEWIS: Thank you.
SIDNER: And finally, in some parts of the world, winter has truly arrived in a spectacular fashion. Drizzling rain didn't stop a record number of
people from gathering at the U.K.'s iconic Stonehenge. The occasion is celebrating the winter solstice. Revelers brought instruments and played
music. You see them there by the rocks during sunrise. And even, some dressed up in costumes.
And here is something else to cheer. From now on, in the Northern Hemisphere, the days will thankfully only get longer. So, bring on the
That is it for us for now. And if you ever miss our show, you can find the latest episode shortly after it airs on our podcast. On our -- your screen
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And that's going to be it for us. Thank you so for watching and goodbye from New York.