An Election and an Insurrection
Trymaine Lee: What we witnessed yesterday is America at its ugliest.
Archival Recording: A lot of people packed on the steps now. They have pushed back the barricade, the physical barricade--
Lee: It began on the Capital steps with Trump flags and confederate flags flying together.
Archival Recording: But Capitol police have gone to the other steps to try to keep those secure. But it seems like they've lost the majority of the control of these steps down here in the middle as more and more protesters make their way towards this area. They are coming from both sides of the Capitol at this point, filling in this area here. Lester?
Lee: Rioters scaled walls and used riot shields and metal bars to break windows.
Archival Recording: Yeah, this is a disturbing scene to say the least, at a period that police essentially retreated and then closed the doors there, preventing anyone else from entering. But we did see what appeared to be protesters entering the building.
Lee: A white mob chased a Black Capitol police officer up the steps of a marbled hallway.
Archival Recording: I don't think I ever expected to see anything like this in my entire career covering Congress.
Lee: The Senate Chamber was evacuated and they stormed it.
Archival Recording: The idea of people who have broken into the Capitol and taken over the Senate floor, this is about a dozen folks who came from outside and they're just mullin' around. There's a guy sitting there in the gallery above. He asked, "Who are you with? Who are you with?" And that was about time for me to go. Walking through the hallway--
Lee: All of this, hundreds of extremists pouring into the Capitol building when down as Congress gathered to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College win. Members of Congress had to be ushered to safety through underground passageways.
The National Guard was deployed. One woman was shot and killed and police found improvised explosive devices near the Capitol building. These are the waning, slow-to-die days of Donald Trump's presidency. And they brought to bear what so many democracy-loving people across this country have long feared: that Trump's final acts would end violently.
For months, Trump has poured fuel on the fire with dangerous lies and wild accusations, and invited his supporters to D.C. to stand and fight with him. It was stunning to watch unfold, but not hard to believe. It was always going to end this way. It came as no surprise to me that this overwhelmingly white hoard was met by law enforcement with restraint and very little force. Just imagine for one second that this mob was Black.
Biden: This is not dissent, it's disorder. It's chaos. It borders on sedition. And it must end now.
Lee: President-elect Joe Biden called the chaos an assault on our democracy and demanded that President Trump call off his thugs.
Joe Biden: Let me be very clear: the scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect a true America, do not represent who we are.
Lee: But what is the true America? Just hours earlier on Wednesday, we were telling a very different American story. We woke up to an historic moment for our democracy. Revered Raphael Warnock defeated Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler in Georgia's special election, making him the first Black senator in the state's history. And just the second Black senator from the South since Reconstruction.
Reverend Raphael Warnock: So I come before you tonight as a man who knows that the improbable journey that led me to this place and this historic moment in America could only happen here.
Lee: Reverend Warnock is the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached from 1960 until his assassination in 1968.
Warnock: In the words of Dr. King who grew up just a few blocks from where I'm sitting right now, we are tired in a single garment of destiny.
Lee: And then Georgia Democrat John Ossoff narrowly defeated Republican incumbent David Perdue, giving Democrats control of the Senate. As democracy appeared to be unraveling in the nation's capital, it became clear that the voters had once again spoken.
Democracy had worked and Black voters were credited with saving it. An election and then insurrection. I want more than anything to say that these two parallel stories, on a single day in American life, are somehow hard to square. But I'll be honest, they're not.
It's perhaps the most American moment I can imagine. Anger and violence and hate are not the whole of America. There is great love and compassion and hope. But the pendulum between those forces, it's always swinging. And sometimes it's hard to find the light in all the darkness.
But today on the show just a little bit of light. Before it all went down on Wednesday, I had a conversation with someone who has experienced the messiness of American politics firsthand, Jaime Harrison, the former South Carolina Senate candidate who lost in November but has remained in close touch with Reverend Warnock.
Jaime Harrison: I mean, he went through the fire. And despite it all, he has still prevailed.
Lee: I'm Trymaine Lee and this is Into America. Jaime Harrison first met Reverend Warnock in January of 2018, before either man decided to run for Senate. Now, even while Harrison lost his own race to incumbent Lindsey Graham, he's reveling in his friend's victory. And again, we spoke before the chaos in the Capitol.
Harrison: Listen, I am overjoyed, you know? I got an opportunity to get to know Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff because we were all Senate candidates together and we were from the South. They represent my mom, my sister, my niece, my nephew, my aunts and uncles.
And so after the election after I wasn't able to pull it through, I told them both that I was committed to doing everything I could possibly do to help them. You know, I'd give them ideas and suggestions. I also have been raising money for them.
We raised almost $1 million to help them in the Georgia Democratic Party there. And so there's the joy of me winning my own race. And right under that (LAUGH) is the joy of helping the two of them. Because they are just amazing people. And the knowledge that they're going to the Senate to represent Georgia, and that Mitch McConnell is going to lose his position as majority leader of the United States Senate, today is a great day.
Lee: You know, you sound like you're talking about them like family, almost. Like you're brothers, (LAUGH) it sounds like.
Harrison: Well, in many ways, they have become brothers. You know, brothers in building what I've been calling a new South. A new South that is bold, is inclusive, diverse, where we all are valued. I mean, think about in the '60s when Blacks and Jews went throughout the South fighting for civil rights, risking their lives for civil rights. And now Georgia, part of the heart of the South, the old South, is now sending to Washington, D.C. a Black man and a Jewish man to represent them. You got to smile at how history is sometimes and how life is sometimes.
Lee: There was a moment in Reverend Warnock's victory speech where he reflected on his 82-year-old mother's hands.
Warnock: And my mother, who as a teenager growing up in Waycross, Georgia, used to pick somebody else's cotton. But the other day, because this is America, the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else's cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator.
Lee: What do you think that says about how he's seeing this moment and how he's seeing his victory in the bigger sense?
Harrison: Man, it gives me chills. It really, really does. Because you think about the long road that we have been on, particularly African Americans as a people. I remember on Election Day going to vote and voting with my son and remembering that one of the last things that I did when my grandfather was alive was take him to go vote.
And him telling me that, "You know, Jaime, this is something that I always couldn't do here in South Carolina." You think about these moments and they're sort of burnt onto your soul. I cannot say how important Reverend Warnock's victory was and is to get another building block in actually building this America. The America that the founders talked about, but we just have not taken the actions to live. And Warnock's victory gets us one step closer to that.
Lee: And that step includes being the first Black Democrat to be elected to the Senate from the South since Reconstruction. That seems like a big leap.
Harrison: Oh, it is a huge leap. And I want to give credit to my sister Stacey Abrams, who started the cracks on this. What she was able to do, what Andrew Gillum was able to do in the 2018 cycle was to demonstrate that African Americans can run statewide.
They can raise the funds in order to compete. And they can energize the Democratic electorate better than anybody else. And Stacey set that ball rolling. We felt that energy here in South Carolina. My guess is we felt that energy is Mississippi, but it was Raphael Warnock to actually break through.
And I'm so, so happy for him. But what this does is then we move to 2022. And that's when I expect my brother Charles Booker in Kentucky to run again for the United States Senate. I expect to see Stacey Abrams actually get the governorship that she won back in 2018.
I expect her to take that helm. I think this year was the year of the Black voter. But I think what we're going to see in 2022 is the cycle of the Black candidate. Because I think you're going to see a lot of Black candidates run statewide. And I believe, and I'm going to do everything I can to make this a reality, they're going to win.
Because these are people who understand the pain and the hardships that folks are experiencing right now, particularly in rural communities. They have the lived experiences where they need to be in the halls of power making decisions, influencing the direction for so many lives. And so I'm going to do everything I can in order to help make that happen.
Lee: I think understanding that kind of life experience and the character that that builds, and going back again because I can't shake Reverend Warnock talking about his mother's hands, and I think about Bill Withers' Grandma's Hands, right?
Harrison: Yes, yes.
Lee: But I want to talk about Reverend Warnock's trajectory here. One of 12 kids, his mother a minister and, you know, just has this big family from the rural South. His emergence as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Dr. King's church, he was the pastor to John Lewis. And I hear it described, Ebenezer, as Black America's church. And we understand that church tradition. But I want to talk about the man a little bit. How did you first meet Reverend Warnock?
Harrison: I had always heard of Reverend Warnock. I had met him briefly. Bernice King invited me to come over to the MLK Center, it was during an MLK celebration, to speak. And then I went over to Ebenezer and got an opportunity to briefly meet Reverend Warnock then.
I also remember getting calls from Chuck Schumer when I had already announced that I was running for the United States Senate. And Senator Schumer said to me, he said, "You know, I really want Stacey Abrams to run. But if we don't get Stacey Abrams to run, what do you think about Revered Warnock?" And I told him, I said, "Senator, do you understand, this is the pastor who is preaching at Dr. Martin Luther King's (LAUGH) church?"
Lee: That's something. (LAUGH)
Harrison: I said, (LAUGH) "Outside of Stacey, you can't come any better." And he sat on that chorus to really, along with Stacey's help, to really get Reverend Warnock to run. And then when he got in the race, I had been in the race running for a while now.
And so he and I started chattin' a lot about consultants and what he needed. And, you know, we just became fast friends. And so, you know, I'm just so proud of the brother. I'm proud of what he has done. I'm proud that he is also demonstrating the talent that comes from our historically Black colleges and universities. I'm proud that he was a Pell Grant baby just like I was. So that he understands the value of that program and will fight for it when he gets to the United States Senate. It is something about having lived experiences.
Lee: When did you realize that he was more than just the pastor of this historic church? When did you realize, like, "This guy is the real deal," on a personal live as brothers?
Harrison: I remember one event that we were on and he talked about his brother. And it was such a magical moment where his brother was just recently released. And his remarks had so much heartbeat to it. And listen, you know, I grew up in a Black church.
You know that Black pastors, heartbeat is who they are, right? (LAUGH) They bring that heart and that passion to every sermon and every service that they conduct. But to see him also leverage that and bring that to politics was just amazing.
Lee: And it clearly resonated with folks across the state, because even in the midst of some pretty disgusting attacks about his religion, his church, thinly veiled racism, his personal life, what do you think it was about all of that that was able to cut through? Because there are a lot of people who lead with their heart. There are a lot of people who are great orators and men of faith.
Harrison: Oh yeah.
Lee: But what do you think it was about him that actually cut through the noise?
Harrison: Well, I also think, listen, the one thing that Republicans should get from this, you know, some of them are acolytes of Lee Atwater, right? With the dog whistles and all that stuff. Actually, Kelly Loeffler used Lindsey Graham's playbook. They used the exact things against Reverend Warnock.
I mean, they even darkened his skin the same way Lindsey did me. Like, darkened his skin, called him a radical. This is a thing that you have to understand. Don't come for the Black church. Don't ever come for the Black church. Because what you saw in Georgia is what will happen.
You will galvanize African Americans in a way that you never would imagine. And so not only was Reverend Warnock able to be victorious, but he lapped the field. He got more votes than anybody else on election night. More than the two Republicans, more than John Ossoff. He set the trend.
Lee: We have to take a quick break. But when we come back, Jaime Harrison talks about the movement of Black voters that helped Reverend Warnock to victory.
This is Into America. I'm Trymaine Lee. We're back with former South Carolina Senate candidate Jaime Harrison, talking about Reverend Raphael Warnock's historic win in Georgia. Harrison says organizers like former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and LaTosha Brown of Black Voters Matter, who have been registering Democrats and rallying the Black vote in the state for years were crucial to Warnock's victory. But he believes the results can be replicated in other states all across the South.
Harrison: Oh, yes. The path to becoming a majority party in this country runs through the South. And the reason why it runs through the South, it is because it is the cradle where you find the heart of the African American community. The largest Black populations in this country are in southern states.
You got Mississippi, where almost 40% of its voting age population African American. There is no reason why we can't win races in Mississippi, but for the fact that we haven't invested in Mississippi. And this is what we all had to do. Not only are you doing the job of a candidate, but you are also doing the job, because of the neglect in terms of Democratic Party institutions in these states, you're also doing the job of a state party organization as well.
And so that's a lot to carry on your shoulders. But even with that weight, we still are able to energize the populations in a way that we have never seen. You know, in my race, we got 1.1 million votes. No person, no Democrat has ever gotten that many votes. We were only 50,000 short of what Donald Trump got in 2016.
Harrison: And he beat Hillary Clinton by 14 points. Because there was an energy on the ground. But we still need the investment in the infrastructure. And Stacey Abrams and LaTosha Brown and Nikema Williams and all of these Black women, all of these folks have been doing the work for a long time building the infrastructure in the party but also in the grassroots organizations.
And that is what is needed to be replicated in these other states with large Black populations. The Black communities in these states need to know that the candidates and the parties see them, hear them, value them, and will fight for them.
And you can't do that by just dropping in a church, you know, a month or two before the election. I believe that the Democratic Party has to transform. It can't just be a political organization. It has to be a community organization that is on the ground, working with people, dealing with the issues that they're dealing with right now. They want to see you do something to help them now. I mean, LaTosha Brown was out there gettin' people out to vote and passin' out collard greens at the same time, right?
Lee: And singin'. And will sing.
Harrison: And singin', (LAUGH) right.
Lee: Yeah, pipes. (LAUGH)
Harrison: Because she understands folks are laid off and they are hungry. They are hungry. And so they can't just wait until we say, "Oh, well, you all just wait until we get into the Senate and then we can pass the COVID relief bill now and then we can get some food on your table."
Let's get food onto the table now and at the same time educate people about what's going on and helping them. Because when people see that you are willing to help them, then they become invested in you because they feel that you are invested in them.
And that is what I believe is the fundamental game changer, the competitive advantage that we have to garner as a party in order to see the real differences that we just witnessed in Georgia.
Lee: You know, we hear a lot about the work of Black women, again, like Stacey Abrams, LaTosha Brown, and a bunch of Black women who are voting for Democrats. And we hear a lot about the Biden administration needing to, you know, pay this back somehow, right? Like, pay this great debt. In a political sense, what does that actually look like?
Harrison: They need to not only have seats at a table, they need to be at the head of some of these tables. Black women, and I would also say men too, 'cause--
Lee: Of course.
Harrison: --one of the things that we got to be wary of, Trymaine, is that we are seeing some slippage with Black men, who went over to Donald Trump. And I think we got to stop that slippage. And that means making sure that we have good representation and that we're investing in what they see as needs and priorities.
But as it relates to Black women, they have been doing the work that has allowed us to get to this point. And they need to be paid dutifully because of it. And so appointments, opportunities, investments in businesses, all of these above. And nothing is too much in terms of repaying African American women for just doing the work.
Lee: When was the last time you talked to Reverend Warnock? Have you talked to him since the election?
Harrison: Well, I text him and (LAUGH) I've been textin' with him and John for the past few days, praying for 'em. And texted 'em last night and this morning, text 'em both to say, "Congratulations to my two new senator-elects." (LAUGH) And I can't tell you how happy and proud I am of them, and particularly Reverend Warnock. I mean, he went through the fire. As my grandma said, "They called him everything but a child of God."
Lee: But a child of God, yep. (LAUGH)
Harrison: Yep. (LAUGH) And despite it all, he has still prevailed. And the real work begins. We gotta get things done. In the end, these voters are gonna say, "Okay, we gave you what you asked for. We gave you the leadership mantle, right? You now have the conch shell. What are you gonna do with it?"
So we said, "We're gonna pass a $2,000 stimulus bill." Let's get the bill on the floor. Let's pass it. We said that we were gonna pass a John Lewis Votin' Rights Act. Let's pass that. We said that we were gonna tackle criminal justice reform. Let's do that.
We got to make sure that our actions meet up with our words. And that's gonna be really important for us to do over the course of the next few months. So we have to have a bold and aggressive agenda. We got to do everything we can. We gotta be just as vigilant as Mitch McConnell has been in terms of blocking things.
We have to be as vigilant, if not more so, in terms of actually gettin' 'em done. Because if we do the work, then in 2022, even though history says it's a bad year for the White House, people will appreciate it. And they will reward us for it. But we got to do the work.
Lee: The last thing I want to ask you is what advice are you gonna give Reverend Warnock face to face when you finally get to see him? What are you gonna say to this man?
Harrison: Well, you know, job well done. Job well done. And I'm gonna let him know, as I've already let him know, if there's anything that I can do to help him. And so he's gonna need a network of friends and allies, I mean, 'cause he's gonna be up for election again in two years.
That's the thing that I don't know if most people understand. That his was a special election and he doesn't have that whole six years in order to run again. He's gonna have to run again in 2022. So that means that we need to make sure that he can deliver on the promises that he made to the people of Georgia so that they then reward him with another six years in the United States Senate.
We know the expectations of the African American community. And we cannot be shy in pushing for things that have any impact on our communities. They are expecting so much from us, as individuals, but also as a party. So there's a heavy weight on his shoulders. But listen, Reverend Warnock has broad shoulders. He's been carrying a whole lot for a long time. And I'm sure he will do well by the people of Georgia in his representation.
Lee: Jaime Harrison, brother, thank you once again for joining us. We really, really, truly appreciate it.
Harrison: Thank you. Take care, now.
Lee: That was Jaime Harrison, the former Democratic Senate candidate in South Carolina. He's also the founder of Dirt Road PAC, which has raised millions of dollars for Democrats across the country. Into America is produced by Isabel Angel, Allison Bailey, Aaron Dalton, Max Jacobs, Barbara Raab, Claire Tighe, Aisha Turner, and Preeti Varathan. Original music by Hannis Brown. Our executive producer is Ellen Frankman. I'm Trymaine Lee. We'll be back next Thursday.